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Zelman v. Simmons-Harris

Law Dictionary
CASE BRIEFS

Law Dictionary

Featuring Black's Law Dictionary 2nd Ed.
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Constitutional Law Keyed to Sullivan

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Bloomberg Law

Citation. 536 U.S. 639 (2002)

Brief Fact Summary. The Cleveland public schools were performing badly, and in an effort to resolve this issue, the state of Ohio put into effect a school voucher plan under which parents could opt to enroll their children in private schools taking part in the program. Since a great majority of the private schools were affiliated to one or other religious group, Ohio taxpayers filed an action against the program pleading violation of the Establishment Clause.


Synopsis of Rule of Law. A school voucher program which allows parents to send their children to a private school is not in violation of the Establishment Clause, where the vast majority of participating private schools are affiliated to religious groups.


Facts.Ohio started up a Pilot Project Scholarship Program aimed at any family in an Ohio school district which was under federal control owing to a court decree. Cleveland City School District had a dismal performance compared to others. Under the project certain students in this district could attend participating public or private schools of their parents’ choice and receive tuition scholarship, or remain in their own public school with tutorial aid. There was no distinction made in participation eligibility between religious and non-religious schools in the district, nor against public schools in the adjacent district. The criterion for tuition aid was the financial status of the parents, who could spend it entirely at their discretion in enrolling their children in schools of their choice. The program included the condition that the number of tutorial fee grants to children who chose to remain in public school must be equal to the number of tuition aid scholarships. In 1999-2000, 82 percent of participating private schools were religious, none of the adjacent district’s public schools chose to take part, and 96 percent of the scholarship students were enrolled in religious schools. 60 percent were from low income families, at or below the poverty line. Other options under this program included community schools, which were run by their own boards but funded by the state, and received double the funding per student as a private school did; magnet schools, which are public but stress some specific area of teaching, method of teaching, or service. Ohio taxpayers (P) sought an injunction against the program on the ground that the state was encouraging religious instruction. The district court granted summary judgment to them, and the verdict was affirmed by the court of appeals. The Supreme Court reviewed the case.


Issue. Is a school voucher program which allows parents to send their children to a private school in violation of the Establishment Clause, where the vast majority of participating private schools are affiliated to religious groups?

 



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