- The Washington Times - Saturday, November 10, 2001

The U.S. government, Republican Mayor Rudolph W. Giuliani of New York and Democratic Mayor John Norquist of Milwaukee are defending a school-choice program in Cleveland that allows students to attend parochial schools with tax dollars.
They are among a broad array of supporters who have filed briefs asking the U.S. Supreme Court to overturn lower federal court rulings that found the Cleveland program unconstitutional. It is the first school-choice case to reach the Supreme Court.
"The breadth and diversity of support for school choice in the U.S. Supreme Court is truly remarkable," said Clint Bolick, vice president of the Institute for Justice. The institute represents five low-income Cleveland families whose children attend private schools on state-funded scholarships.
"These briefs, spanning the ideological spectrum, demonstrate the urgent need to preserve this promising educational reform," Mr. Bolick added.
But there is also powerful opposition to the Cleveland program. The list includes the American Civil Liberties Union, Americans United for Separation of Church and State, People for the American Way, the National Education Association and the American Federation of Teachers.
The Pilot Project Scholarship Program, which began in the 1996 school year, gives low-income Cleveland families vouchers for up to $2,250 to attend private schools, including religious schools. At this time, nearly 4,300 children use the vouchers, and 96 percent are enrolled in religious schools.
The Supreme Court, which will hear arguments early next year, must decide whether there is a constitutional difference between providing parents public money to educate their children in a parochial school and direct public financing of a religious education. In the past, the court has found the latter unconstitutional.
In 1973, the court struck down a program in New York that provided reimbursement for low-income parents who paid tuition to parochial schools.
The court, in its 6-to-3 ruling, said this subsidy for religious education violated the First Amendment requirement for separation of church and state.
In a brief filed in June, U.S. Solicitor General Theodore B. Olson asked the Supreme Court to take up the case, Zelman vs. Simmons-Harris, and to uphold the voucher program.
Steve Venem, spokesman for Americans United for Separation of Church and State, called it "very unusual" for the Justice Department, to "announce its position" on a case before the Supreme Court has even decided whether to accept it. The court announced in September it would review the Cleveland school-choice case.
Rev. Barry W. Lynn, executive director of Americans United for Separation of Church and State, said opponents of the voucher program believe it is unfair to use tax dollars to fund religious institutions.
"The parents are just a pipeline from the Treasury to religious schools. The vast majority of the students in this program attend religious schools, which are part of the ministry of a church," Mr. Lynn said.
Mr. Bolick argues that the Cleveland program is "not about religion, it's about education."
In a bipartisan legal brief, Mr. Giuliani and Mr. Norquist cited a Harvard study that found Milwaukee's school-choice program pushed elementary schools to improve. The Milwaukee program, like the one in Cleveland, enables poor students to attend religious schools.

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