The Cleveland Voucher Program

Published February 1, 2000

History: The Ohio Legislature enacted the Cleveland Voucher Program as a pilot scholarship program in 1995, in the wake of a U.S. District Court-ordered takeover of the administration of the Cleveland City School District by the state. Last year, the Ohio Supreme Court found the program itself to be constitutional, but nevertheless voided it on a legislative technicality. In June 1999, the Ohio Legislature re-enacted the program in all pertinent respects. It then was challenged on constitutional grounds in U.S. District Court by the American Federation of Teachers.

Alternative Schools: Private schools within the geographic boundaries of the District and public schools adjacent to the District are eligible to participate in the program as “alternative schools.” In order to do so, schools must register with the State Superintendent. At the beginning of the 1999-2000 school year, 56 private schools were registered to participate in the program. Forty-six, or over 82 percent, were church-affiliated.

In the more than three years that the Cleveland Voucher Program has been in operation, no public schools have registered for the program.

Students: The program is available to students living in the Cleveland City School District. Students may enter the program in kindergarten through third grade; once admitted to the program, students are eligible for scholarships through eighth grade. Recipients are chosen by lot. For the 1999-2000 school year, 3,761 students were enrolled in the program. Of these, 3,632, or over 96 percent, were enrolled in religious schools.

Vouchers: Recipients receive a fixed percentage of the tuition charged by the alternative school of their choice, up to $2,500. Students whose family income is not more than 200 percent of the federally established poverty level receive 90 percent of their school tuition, while scholarship recipients whose family income is above this threshold receive 75 percent of their tuition.

Payment: Disbursement of scholarship money is accomplished by the state sending to the chosen school a check made payable to the parents of the student; the parents must endorse the check to the school. The state places no restriction on how the private school may spend the money. In the event that an adjacent public school is involved, the state would issue a check made payable to the school district.