Milwaukee Voucher Decision Appealed to U.S. Supreme Court

Published October 1, 1998

The American Civil Liberties Union, People for the American Way Foundation, and National Education Association have asked the United States Supreme Court to review a Wisconsin Supreme Court decision upholding the Milwaukee Parental Choice Program.

In an unusual move, the victors in the Wisconsin case, decided June 10, have expressed their support for review by the nation’s highest court. Their willingness to have the case heard may improve the chances that a definitive ruling on school choice will be issued by the US Supreme Court this term.

Opponents of the Milwaukee program contend that the use of tax dollars for tuition at religious schools violates the establishment clause of the First Amendment to the Constitution. Messmer High School president Brother Bob Smith, a voucher advocate, disagrees. “This program is no different than receiving medical care at a Catholic hospital or war veterans using federal money to attend classes at a private college.”

At the start of this year’s school year, about 6,000 Milwaukee children enrolled in 86 private and religious schools using state-funded vouchers. Prior to the Wisconsin court’s decision in June, enrollment in religious schools was not an option for participants in the voucher program.

“The children in this program cannot be secure until the US Supreme Court removes the constitutional cloud from school choice,” declared Clint Bolick, litigation director for the Washington, DC-based Institute for Justice. The Institute represented low-income families in the successful defense of the Milwaukee program. (See “Milwaukee Voucher Victory,” School Reform News, September 1998.)

“School choice and the vital educational opportunities it offers to parents and children will not be secure until the Court can rule on the constitutionality of programs like Milwaukee’s,” said Bolick and Institute for Justice President William Mellor. “In our view, the issue is better resolved sooner than later, and this is an ideal case in which to test the issue.”

The Institute and the State of Wisconsin have 30 days to file their formal responses to the appellants’ petition for review, which was filed on August 31. Should the Court agree to hear the case, it will likely issue a ruling by June 1999.

“School choice offers hope for millions of disadvantaged youngsters,” declared Bolick. “A favorable ruing will help fulfill our nation’s promise of equal educational opportunities for all children.”