Editor’s note: This commentary appeared Tuesday on travelbreakingnews.net.
Do you remember where you were when the Zelman v. Simmons Harris ruling came down? I do. It was a beautiful spring day in Washington, D.C., and my pensive mood turned sunny upon hearing that the Supreme Court upheld the Ohio school voucher program.
The “Ohio program is entirely neutral with respect to religion … It permits such individuals to exercise genuine choice among options public and private, secular and religious,” wrote Justice William Rehnquist for the majority.
At the time, only five states had voucher programs: Ohio and Wisconsin had scholarship programs for eligible families in Cleveland and Milwaukee. Florida awarded students with disabilities and students in failing public schools vouchers to attend another public or private school. Maine and Vermont operated century-old tuition programs for students in towns without a public school.
Additionally, Minnesota, Iowa, and Illinois offered taxpayers a tax deduction or credit for tuition expenses. Pennsylvania, Florida, and Arizona gave taxpayers a credit for contributions to philanthropic organizations that awarded students scholarships.
These programs had overcome challenges in state courts, but Zelman would make or break the movement to expand private school options for families. Twenty years ago, students won the day.
Today, 16 states have voucher programs; nine states offer tax deductions or credits for tuition expenses; 21 states offer credits for contributions to scholarship organizations, and eight states offer families education savings accounts from which they can pay for private schools. Public school choice programs such as charter schools, magnet schools, and intra-district and inter-district transfer programs, as well as homeschooling, have also grown significantly over the past two decades.
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