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Published: Sunday, 10/7/2001

Definitive voucher ruling overdue

Nothing less than the education of thousands of children in Ohio and throughout the nation depends on the Supreme Court's long-awaited ruling on the constitutionality of school vouchers. The significance of the high court's decision to rule on a publicly financed Ohio program that gives Cleveland parents vouchers to pay for tuition at religious schools cannot be understated.

The court's decision on whether vouchers violate the boundary between church and state will affect not only Cleveland students and a handful of voucher tuition programs in other states, but whether the concept itself survives and spreads throughout the country.

While the jury is still out on the academic benefits to public school students transferring to religion-based schools on state-issued vouchers, the years of controversy over the legitimacy of such tuition pacts beg for resolution. The ongoing legal stop and start challenges of Ohio's voucher program have been unsettling and disruptive to the education of choice for some 4,266 Cleveland students.

The Supreme Court is partly to blame for the confounding indecision on school vouchers because it has declined to accept programs for review- passing on cases from Wisconsin, Maine, and Vermont. That left unresolved the central question of whether public monies granted to mostly low-income parents can be used at their discretion to finance the religious or other private school education of their children.

Now, after sending mixed signals about the propriety of such a public-private tuition arrangement, - it restored Cleveland's program to new voucher students after a federal court stopped them - the court has agreed to finally rule on the validity of the program. No doubt it will be vexing to some of the justices that 96 percent of students participating in the Cleveland voucher program attend religious schools.

The ruling among the nine justices is expected to be close when rendered next year but hopefully it will clarify the gray line of demarcation between state and church as it applies to voucher tuition programs. Nothing less than the ability of parents to proceed with the task of effectively educating their children hangs in the balance.



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