Continuing a permissive trend in the use of tax money for parochial schools, the Supreme Court approved an Ohio program of providing low-income families with tax-subsidized vouchers to pay for tuition at private schools.
As part of plan to increase educational opportunity, the legislature of Ohio enacted a statute with a Pilot Scholarship Program that provided vouchers for low-income students to attend private schools of their choice from kindergarten through the eighth grade, with the announced goal of improving academic achievement. During the 1990-2000 school year, 96 percent of the students participating in the program attended religiously affiliated schools, and 82 percent of the participating schools had religious affiliations. Susan Tave Zelman, Ohio’s superintendent of public instruction, joined with other Ohio taxpayers to initiate a lawsuit alleging that the program violated the establishment clause of the First Amendment. The challengers prevailed in both the District Court and the Court of Appeals.
The lower courts based their decision on the three-pronged test in Lemon v. Kurtzman
In the Zelman case, the Supreme Court reversed the lower courts’ rulings and upheld the constitutionality of the Ohio voucher program. Speaking for a 5-4 majority, Chief Justice William H. Rehnquist
Although the Zelman decision created great controversy, it was unlikely that vouchers would be offered in many other places. Between 1970 and 2000, eight states held elections to decide the issue, and each time the voters rejected the proposal, usually by a vote of more than 65 percent.
Lemon v. Kurtzman
Religion, establishment of
Rehnquist, William H.
Souter, David H.