Zelman v. Simmons-Harris
United States Supreme Court
Argued February 20, 2002
Decided June 27, 2002
By: Seth Jacobs and Jennifer Carmack
The state of Ohio established a program that allowed any student in poverty to attend a private school of their choosing (as long as the school participated in the program). The private schools could even be religious schools, as long as, there was no discrimination when students who were enrolling into these schools. The question answered with this case, is whether it is lawful to take tax money to pay for students to attend a school affiliated with religious views. The Cleveland City School District was the worst performing school district in Ohio, and possibly even the nation. There was only a 33% likelihood that a student would graduate high school, and 1 and every four seniors still failed to graduate. Those that did graduate could barely read and write. This program gave families vouchers to send their children to any private school of their choosing, and those choosing to remain in public schools were allotted funds toward tutoring services.
The court found spending tax dollars in order to send students to a religious/private school did not violate the Establishment Clause. As long as the schools did not discriminate against the enrolling population, students were allowed to attend any private school associated with the program. The level of poverty was the deciding factor on how much money would be allotted to each student, and the schools weren’t allowed to ask parents to pay more than $250 out of pocket to make up the difference. This decision to start this program was made in response to a Magnet School take over that began in 1995. The Magnet schools receive state funding as well, however, they are ruled by their own school board and do not answer directly to the state.
Impact on Teaching:
School districts may enact tuition vouchers for schools that have low economic standards, if and only if they pass the five-part Private Choice Test the Supreme Court set in place. The five criteria to meet to make sure these tuition vouchers are constitutional were: the program must have a valid secular purpose, aid must go to parents and not to the schools, a broad class of beneficiaries must be covered, the program must be neutral with respect to religion, and there must be adequate nonreligious options. If the school infringes any of those five criteria it violates the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment and is deemed unconstitutional. Also to note, the money being given to the parents is in contrast to the previous case Lemon v. Kurtzman when the money was given to the schools. The schools should not dictate what school children go to, but it's the parents right to decide.

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Test Question:

The Supreme Court ruled that it is lawful to make state funding available to students attending private schools, as long as certain criteria has been met.

Answer: T