The Supreme Court

Legalizing School Vouchers

The Bush Administration is a big proponent of school vouchers. The door was at least partially opened for vouchers after a 2002 Supreme Court ruling in Zelman v. Simmons-Harris.

Opponents of school vouchers believe they will force citizens—Christians, Jews, Muslims, and atheists—to pay for religious indoctrination of school children at schools with narrow parochial agendas. Estimates are that 80 percent of vouchers will be used in schools whose central mission is religious training. Religion permeates these schools in the classroom, the lunchroom, even on the athletic fields. Channeling public money in this direction, opponents believe, flies in the face of the constitutional mandate of separation of church and state.

The Zelman v. Simmons-Harris case did not give a green light for all school vouchers programs, only ones designed in a similar way to the Cleveland School District's voucher program. The Court ruled a legal voucher program must:

Zelman v. Simmons-Harris also was narrowly decided on a split 5 to 4 decision. Chief Justice Rehnquist wrote the opinion for the court with Justices O'Connor, Scalia, Kennedy, and Thomas joining. Justice O'Connor also wrote a concurring opinion joined by Thomas. Souter filed a dissenting opinion joined by Stevens, Ginsburg and Breyer. Stevens filed his own dissenting opinion and Breyer filed a dissenting opinion joined by Stevens and Souter.

Chief Justice Rehnquist wrote in the opinion announced by the Court on June 27, 2002:

In his dissent, Souter wrote:

The battle for school vouchers is far from over. The next round will probably be fought at either state legislatures or in the U.S. Congress as proponents try to develop voucher systems that meet the tests set by the majority in this case.

As you can see, the Supreme Court plays a major role in key education decisions that affect your child and how your child is treated inside the schools. In the next section, we'll look at the issue of sharing power between state and federal governments.

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Excerpted from The Complete Idiot's Guide to The Supreme Court © 2004 by Lita Epstein, J.D.. All rights reserved including the right of reproduction in whole or in part in any form. Used by arrangement with Alpha Books, a member of Penguin Group (USA) Inc.

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