U.S. Supreme Court Upholds Cleveland School Vouchers

June 27, 2002
Greg Lackner


Chicago, IL -- Today, the United States Supreme Court handed down one of the most important decisions in the history of U.S. public education. In Zelman v. Simmons-Harris, the Court ruled:

. . . [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. In keeping with an unbroken line of decisions rejecting challenges to similar programs, we hold that the program does not offend the Establishment Clause.


Reactions from The Heartland Institute:

According to George Clowes, managing editor of School Reform News, a monthly newspaper published by The Heartland Institute:

Any remaining doubts about the constitutionality of school vouchers have finally been removed. It’s time for everyone to roll up their sleeves and help with the design of the best possible school voucher programs for their communities.

Opponents of school choice will continue to charge that vouchers -- or any kind of publicly funded school choice for that matter -- “drain” money from public schools. But U.S. Secretary of Education Rod Paige addressed this complaint last week when speaking at a national charter school conference in Milwaukee. First, said Paige, “Choice is a necessary condition for effective school reform.” Second, he said, “The funds are not there for the school system, they’re there for the education of the child.”

Paige got it right. School taxes are for the children, not for the school system. Certainly, public school teachers, administrators, and school board members are right to be concerned about their potential loss of control over the more than $400 billion a year that is spent on U.S. public schools (more than $8,500 per student). But if a public school is not succeeding in educating a child, particularly an inner-city child, then the parent should have the right to take some or all of that money and spend it at another school that can do a better job -- whether that school is public, private, or religious.


According to Joseph Bast, president of The Heartland Institute, a national nonprofit organization that has been active in the voucher debate for 18 years:

This is a major victory for civil liberties and for low-income families who are trapped in under-performing public schools. From now on, school vouchers are now clearly the preferred way to improve the quality of schools for all children.

This decision is one of several recent developments, among them Florida’s first state-wide voucher plan and Secretary of Education Rod Paige’s advocacy of vouchers, showing the growing momentum for the school choice movement. Government schools cannot remain islands of centralized government control in a world of free markets and private innovation. Change is coming, and not even teacher unions will be able to block the door much longer.


For interviews with Mr. Bast and Mr. Clowes, please contact Greg Lackner, Heartland Public Affairs Director, at 312/377-4000, or lackner@heartland.org.


Resources from The Heartland Institute:

The full text of the Supreme Court’s decision in Zelman v Simmons-Harris is available on The Heartland Institute’s web site at http://www.heartland.org/publicpdf/zelmanvsimmonsharris.pdf.

An extensive collection of research and commentary on school choice, including pro and con views, can be found on Heartland’s Web site at www.heartland.org. It includes:

  • Talking points on school choice
  • Principles for reform
  • Two entire books!
  • Back issues of School Reform News
  • Over 1,000 studies and commentaries in PDF format
  • What teacher unions say about school choice
  • Directory of school reform organizations
  • Heartland Policy Studies on school reform
  • Heartland Perspectives on school reform
  • Model school choice legislation


In anticipation of the Court’s decision, The Heartland Institute published in May “The Heartland Plan for Illinois: Model School Voucher Legislation.” The report reviews the components of an ideal voucher program and answers common questions about school choice. The report and draft legislation can be found on Heartland’s Web site at www.heartland.org.