CLEVELAND — The Ohio Supreme Court on Thursday struck down a publicly funded scholarship program for low-income students in Cleveland to attend private schools.
In a 5-2 decision, the state's highest court expressed support for the merits of the voucher initiative on a limited scale but rejected the provision on a legislative technicality. The ruling takes effect June 30.
The Legislature passed the voucher measure in 1995 but improperly tucked it into an appropriations bill, the court found. Ohio law prohibits legislation from including more than one subject.
The issue of taxpayer-funded vouchers as part of school choice initiatives has fueled debate nationwide. Critics charge that the concept violates the constitutional separation of church and state because many private schools are religion-based. Opponents also say vouchers undermine public education by diverting tax money that could go to improving public schools.
But the Ohio court did not dismiss the merits of the Cleveland-only pilot program, which provides tuition credits of up to $2,250 for almost 4,000 students attending kindergarten through fifth grade. Most of the 57 schools accepting these students are religion-based.
"We conclude that the school voucher program has a secular legislative purpose, does not have the primary effect of advancing religion and does not excessively entangle government with religion," wrote Justice Paul Pfeifer in the majority opinion.