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GOVERNMENT-FUNDED VOUCHERS FOR PRIVATE SCHOOLS

Developments from year 2000 to now:

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Recent developments:

bullet2000-JUL-31: California: Proposition 38 was approved to be presented to the voters in California on the 2000-NOV ballot. If it passed, it would have created America's largest school-voucher program, allowing as many as 6.5 million children to attend private schools. It would have given each family $4,000 per pupil. A similar plan in 1993 to give 2,600 per student failed to gain public support. A voucher proposal was also approved for inclusion on the ballot in Michigan at the November ballot.
bullet2000-Summer: USA: The Republican presidential candidate, George W. Bush, indicated his support for school vouchers. The Democratic candidate, Al Gore, is opposed to vouchers.
bullet2000-AUG-27: California: Mark Purdy wrote an essay which was published in the San Jose, CA, Mercury News. He opposes school vouchers. He is concerned about "the inevitable new layer of government bureaucracy that vouchers would create." He is also concerned that Witches might start up a school, funded mainly through the voucher system. "..let's say that they teach the making of love potions or the art of goat butchering as part of the curriculum." [Editor's note: Actually, Witches are prohibited by their Wiccan Rede from manipulating others with love potions. They also do not engage in animal sacrifices -- the occasional peach or orange perhaps, but nothing higher on the evolutionary scale.] He also fears schools organized by "white supremacists? Or black supremacists? Or a dangerous religious cult?" He suggests an alternative system which would give bonuses to parents who attended parent-teacher conferences or PTA meetings.
bullet2000-NOV-7: USA: Proposals defeated in the November elections:
bulletCalifornia: Partly as a result of strong opposition by teachers, their unions, municipal governments and the governor of California, a proposal to introduce school vouchers were voted down. Proposition 38 would have authorized a program to give $4,000 to any parent who wanted to transfer their child/children from public school to a private school. It was defeated 71% to 29%. Exit polls showed that African-Americans voted against vouchers 68 to 32%; Latinos were opposed 77 to 23%. 1 California voters approved 53% to 47% a measure which lowered the percentage of the vote required for local school boards to pass construction bonds.
bulletMichigan: Michigan's voucher program would have given $3,300 vouchers, but only to parents of children who were enrolled in failing public school districts. It was defeated 68% to 32%. "The proposal was supported by Roman Catholic churches and bankrolled by Richard DeVos, co-founder of the Amway Corp., and members of his and his wife's family, who together donated more than $4.75 million." 2 Exit polls showed that African-Americans voted against vouchers by a 4 to 1 margin; Roman Catholics were also opposed by 59% to 41%. 1
bulletOther states: "...in Colorado and Arizona, voters even voted to raise sales taxes in order to increase funding to the public schools.  And Washington State voters also voted to expand school funding."
bullet2000-DEC-11: Ohio: Cleveland voucher program found unconstitutional: By a vote of 2 to 1, the Sixth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals upheld a district court ruling of 1999-DEC-20 which had found that the Cleveland voucher program was unconstitutional. Since it had the "impressible effect" of benefiting sectarian schools, it violated the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution. They noted that most of the 56 schools which benefit from the voucher money are affiliated with religious groups. Ralph G. Neas, President of People For The American Way Foundation said: "Today's ruling is a victory for the First Amendment and a victory for public education. Ohio lawmakers should now focus their energies on working to ensure that their state's public schools are the strongest they can possibly be." 3
bullet2001-JAN-26: USA: Educational reform package: President George W. Bush submitted an educational reform package to Congress that included provisions for vouchers. Under the plan, students would be tested annually for math and reading skills. Individual schools whose students failed to meet specific standards for three years in a row would have their federal funds cancelled. Money saved would be given to parents in the form of $1,500 vouchers to help fund private or religious school tuition. Some critics of the proposals say that this is precisely the opposite action to take. Failing schools need to be upgraded, not financially abandoned. Other critics say that vouchers would be a violation of the principle of church and state separation. President Bush told Democrats that he is willing to sacrifice the voucher portion of the program if necessary to assure its passage. 4
bullet2001-MAY-2: USA: Vouchers deleted from educational reform package: The House Education Committee voted to remove private school vouchers from President Bush's education package. All of the Democrats on the Committee and five of the Republicans voted against vouchers to produce a final vote of 27 to 20. Vouchers were re-introduced in the form of amendments during debate in the House. They failed by large margins. 5
bullet2001-SEP-25: USA: U.S. Supreme Court decides to hear voucher case: The court decided to hear a case that will decide whether it is constitutional for the government to pay student tuition to religious schools. Under examination will be the six-year-old voucher plan in Cleveland, OH. A ruling is expected in 2002-summer. The cases are Zelman v. Simmons-Harris, 00-1751; Hanna Perkins School v. Simmons-Harris, 00-1777; and Taylor v. Simmons-Harris, 00-1779. Many regard this as the most important case affecting the separation of church and state in many decades. 6
bullet2002-FEB-21: Internet public opinion poll: Vote.com conducts an informal online opinion poll on school vouchers. As of 7:05 of the first day of the poll, 8,098 persons had voted:
bullet18% felt that "using government money for religious education clearly violates the Constitution's separation of church and state."
bullet82% felt that "Vouchers let parents - not the government - choose where kids go to school. This doesn't infringe our rights; it strengthens them." 7

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bullet2002-JUN: U.S.: Supreme Court declares Cleveland voucher plan constitutional: The U.S. Supreme Court, in its usual 5 to 4 ruling, decided that the Cleveland voucher program is constitutional. It "...allows parents to receive tuition assistance to help their children escape failing public schools-in some cases, by attending private religious ones." Parents can also use the money to fund tuition at a secular private school. Social and religious conservative who favor weakening the wall of separation between church and state, and/or "strengthening parental control [over education], and [/or] weakening the government monopoly in education have applauded the ruling." 8 Those favoring the wall of separation between church and state are disappointed, as are those who favor a strong public school system.
bullet2004-AUG: FL: Voucher plan unconstitutionality confirmed: The 1st District Court of Appeals, by a 2 to 1 decision, confirmed a lower court ruling that the 1999 school voucher law was unconstitutional. Judge William Nortwick, writing for the majority, ruled that the "central issue" was whether the Opportunity Scholarship Program:

"violated ... the so-called 'no-aid' provision [of the Florida Constitution], which mandates that 'no revenue of the state ... shall ever be taken from the public treasury directly or indirectly in aid ... of any sectarian institution'...."There is no dispute in this case that state funds are paid to sectarian schools through the OSP vouchers. Thus, we hold the OSP unconstitutional under the no-aid provision to the extent that the OSP authorizes state funds to be paid to sectarian schools."

Governor Bush has stated that the state will appeal the decision to the Florida Supreme Court. The 732 students who are currently receiving financial aid will continue to be funded, pending a decision by the Supreme Court. That ruling will be final. The case pits state legislation against the state constitution, so there is no possibility of an appeal to the  U.S. supreme Court. 9

bullet2006-NOV-27: ME: U.S. Supreme Court refuses to hear school voucher case:

There are 145 small towns in Main that have no high schools. The state offers tuition for 17,000 students to attend any high school of their choice, whether public or private, in Maine or out of state. However a state law passed in 1983 restricts vouchers to non-religious schools. The Institute for Justice, a conservative group, had asked the Supreme Court to rule on the constitutionality of this law. The case is Kevin and Julia Anderson v. Durham School Department, 06-132.

By refusing to review the law, it remains in place. Dick Komer, an attorney at the Institute for Justice, said that the state is discriminating against parents who prefer religiously based schools and that it is "appalling that the nation's highest court" lets it continue. 10

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References used:

The following information sources were used to prepare and update the above essay. The hyperlinks are not necessarily still active today.

  1. "Public schools win at polls," People for the American Way Foundation, 2000-NOV-14.
  2. ReligionToday News Summary, 2000-NOV-9.
  3. "Cleveland vouchers dealt another blow by federal appeals court: Vouchers run afoul of First Amendment, judges conclude," People For the American Way Foundation, press release of 2000-DEC-12.
  4. "Bush proposes vouchers in education package," American Baptist Press, 2001-JAN-26, at: http://www.mcjonline.com/ 
  5. "House strips vouchers from education bill," Maranatha Christian News Service, 2001-MAY-4, at: http://www.mcjonline.com/ 
  6. Anne Gearan "High Court Considers School Vouchers," Associated Press, at: http://dailynews.yahoo.com/h/
  7. "Are school voucher programs unconstitutional?," at: http://www.vote.com/
  8. "Religious Liberty Update-School Choice In, 'Under God' Out?," CultureFacts, a news release from the Family Research Council, 2002-JUL-5.
  9. Joyce Howard Price, "Florida court declares school vouchers illegal," The Washington Times, 2004-AUG-17, at: http://washingtontimes.com/
  10. "U.S. Supreme Court turns down school vouchers case," CNN.com, 2006-NOV-27, at: http://www.cnn.com/
  11. Additional items on the People For the American Way website concerning vouchers are:
    bullet"Pennsylvania Court Upholds Ruling Against Voucher Plan in S.E. Delco," 1999-DEC-27, at:   http://www.pfaw.org/
    bullet"Federal Court Overturns Ohio Vouchers," 1999-DEC-20, at: http://www.pfaw.org/
    bullet"PFAWF, Other Groups Go to Florida Court to Stop Unconstitutional Voucher Bill," 1999-JUN-22, at: http://www.pfaw.org/
    bullet"Bush's Signature on Florida Voucher Bill Paves Way for Constitutional Showdown," 1999-JUN-21  http://www.pfaw.org/
    bullet"Voucher Defeat is Victory for Pennsylvania School Children," 1999-JUN-7
       http://www.pfaw.org/

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Copyright 2000 to 2006 by Ontario Consultants on Religious Tolerance
Originally written: 2000-MAR-15
Latest update: 2006-DEC-13
Author: B.A. Robinson

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