U.S. Supreme Court Upholds Cleveland Voucher Program, Poll Shows
Michiganders Prefer Education Tax Credits
On June 27, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that Cleveland’s school voucher
program is constitutional. In the long-awaited decision, of Zelman vs.
Simmons-Harris, the justices ruled 5-4 in favor of the voucher program, which
provides publicly funded vouchers worth $2,250 to low-income parents to help
send their children to a school of their choice.
The decision overturned an earlier appeals court ruling that the First
Amendement’s Establishment Clause prohibited the program, since most students
used the vouchers to attend religious schools. However, the Supreme Court
justices held that the government did not endorse any religious school or
viewpoint, because parents—not the religious schools—are issued the voucher and
make the choice of whether to use it at a public school, a private non-sectarian
school or a private religious school.
In the decision, Chief Justice Rehnquist wrote for the court, “[T]he Ohio
program is entirely neutral with respect to religion. It provides benefits
directly to a wide spectrum of individuals, defined only by financial need and
residence in a particular school district. It permits such individuals to
exercise genuine choice among options public and private, secular and religious.
The program is therefore a program of true private choice.”
The Zelman decision will likely have little immediate bearing on school
choice in Michigan, since the state constitution, via a 1970 amendment,
prohibits all direct and indirect state government support of nonpublic schools.
In order to have vouchers of any kind in Michigan, the state constitution would
need to be amended again.
The decision came on the heels of a new Mackinac Center for Public Policy
poll conducted by EPIC/MRA, which indicated that more Michigan voters oppose
Cleveland-like vouchers than support them. The poll of 600 active Michigan
voters conducted June 19-25 showed that 49 percent of the respondents are
opposed to vouchers, compared to 44 percent in favor.
The same poll illustrated that 48 percent of respondents favor an education
tax credit so that families can send their children to non-public schools,
compared to 41 percent opposed. Education tax credits allow taxpayers to reduce
their tax bill when they pay tuition costs to non-public schools. The poll also
shows an even wider margin of support for tax credits for individual or
corporate contributions to scholarship programs to non-public schools. Some 56
percent are in favor, compared with 34 percent opposed. Such a program has been
in operation in Arizona since 1998.
Support for education tax credits for scholarship granting organizations
increases to 67 percent if the scholarships could be used for either public or
non-public schools. Some Michigan public schools also charge tuition to
non-district students, so such an education tax credit program would benefit
students in those circumstances. Only 22 percent of Michigan voters are opposed
to such a tax credit program.
In short, a majority of Michigan voters do not approve of Cleveland-like
school vouchers, but they are in favor of education tax credits. The full
results of the poll may be viewed at:
The entire decision in the case, Zelman vs. Simmons-Harris, can be read at:
www.supremecourtus.gov/opinions/01pdf/00-1751.pdf. The decision clears the
way for other cities and states to try similar school choice programs.
Florida Court Strikes Down State Voucher Program
Leon County Circuit Judge P. Kevin Davey ruled on August 5 that Florida’s
voucher program is unconstitutional.
Davey said the 1999 voucher law violates the state constitution, which
prohibits public money from going to churches or other “sectarian institutions.”
The voucher program, which is expected to provide $3,400 vouchers to hundreds
of students this coming school year, allows students in failing schools to
attend the school of their choice, public or private, including religious
Although Davey’s ruling originally barred students from using the vouchers
this year, the state sought and won an appeal to allow students to participate
in the program until the Florida Supreme Court has the opportunity to review and
issue a decision on the case.
The decision can be read at:
Ninth Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals Decision Allows State Scholarships for
Religion College Students
The U.S. Court of Appeals, 9th Circuit, issued a decision on July 18 that may
have significant implications for school choice programs around the country.
In Davey v. Locke, the court struck down a Washington state law that provides
college scholarships to certain qualified students, but not to students who
choose to study religion or theology. In the case, Joshua Davey (no relation to
Judge Davey from previous article) was awarded a Washington state-sponsored
“Promise Scholarship,” which was revoked when he decided to major in Pastoral
Ministries at Northwest College, an accredited institution affiliated with the
Assembly of God church.
This decision overruled a state constitutional provision that prohibits the
state from giving money to religious schools. Since the state gave scholarship
money to other nongovernmental schools in this case, the court held that the
state could not discriminate against religious schools simply because of their
If upheld by the U.S. Supreme Court, states with such constitutional
provisions would be unable to prevent religious colleges from participating in
otherwise neutral school choice programs. In Michigan, the state constitution
would likely survive judicial review, since it prohibits such funding for any
non-government institution, not just religious institutions.
The decision can be read at: