Social Education 64(1), ©2000 National Council for the Social Studies. All rights reserved.

School Voucher Plans Raise Key Church-State Issues


Charles White and Charles F. Williams

One of the fiercest national debates these days is between those seeking to offer parents and their children alternatives to traditional public schools through the provision of tuition vouchers, and those who consider this use of public educational funds counterproductive to the basic purposes of the public school system.

Advocates of vouchers argue that public schools in all too many localities are overly bureaucratic monopolies that have resisted change and failed to educate children. They contend that giving parents more choice in their childrens’ education—in this case, through the use of school vouchers or other mechanisms such as tax credits or tax deductions—will result in a wider range of options, better education for more children, and improvements in the public schools as they change to meet the competition posed by nonpublic schools, whether sectarian or nonsectarian.

Opponents argue that the public schools occupy a unique position in helping to transmit the basic values of our society. They point out that public schools are egalitarian institutions that educate all children. They suggest that evidence for improved student performance using vouchers is inconclusive. Most of all, they fear that the net effect of voucher programs will be less funding for public education, less popular support for public schools, and worse education for the children who remain in them.

Beyond these educational and public policy dimensions of the debate, school vouchers raise fundamental legal and constitutional issues. In most communities, religiously affiliated schools are by far the predominant private school option, so that voucher plans that permit parents to use public funds (i.e., taxes) to educate their children in nonpublic schools tend to benefit religiously affiliated schools. Is this constitutional, or does it violate Thomas Jefferson’s “wall of separation” between church and state as embodied in the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution and many state constitutions? This article will examine the debate over school vouchers largely through the prism of the constitutional question.


Separating Church and State

The roots of today’s debate over whether or not vouchers violate the separation of church and state go back centuries, to religious dissenters trying to establish a toehold on the shores of the North American continent. Whether as Pilgrims arriving in New England, Quakers settling in Pennsylvania, or Catholics coming to Maryland, these people risked everything to get away from an established religion not of their choice in order to enjoy religious freedom.

The framers of the U.S. Constitution knew this heritage well, and wanted to preserve freedom of religion in the new nation. At the same time, they wanted to prevent the “establishment” of any one church—the situation from which many of the American colonists had fled. In England and most of Europe, such established churches were explicitly favored under the law and supported by everyone’s taxes. The framers wanted to assure that this would never happen here.

Their attempt to reconcile these goals is reflected in two clauses in the First Amendment: “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion (the Establishment Clause), or prohibiting the free exercise thereof (the Free Exercise clause)…” The Fourteenth Amendment extended these protections to state and local governments as well (the Equal Protection Clause). The meaning of the original First Amendment clauses may seem clear, but, over time, interpreting these sixteen words has involved hundreds of Supreme Court cases.


Public Aid for Religiously Affiliated

Over the years, the courts have grappled with dozens of issues in trying to decide which, if any, forms of public assistance to religiously affiliated education are permissible under our Constitution. In Everson v. Board of Education of Ewing Township, 330 U.S. 1 (1947), a unanimous U.S. Supreme Court held that the First Amendment barred taxation “to support any religious activities or institutions, whatever they may be called, or whatever form they may adopt to teach or practice religion.”

This decision did not mean, however, that no government funds could be conveyed to religious schools. In Everson, the Court approved state funding of bus transportation to and from school for religiously-affiliated school students. Like police and fire protection, this was deemed “public welfare legislation” the exclusion from which would impede “citizens in the free exercise of their own religion.” In other decisions, the Court has also approved standardized tests for religiously-affiliated school students, as well as scoring, diagnostic, and therapeutic services, as long as they are performed by public school personnel or their hired consultants; no monies can be given directly to the religiously-affiliated schools.

The underlying rationale for decisions such as these was advanced as early as 1930, when Louisiana used tax monies to purchase secular books for religiously affiliated schools. In Cochran v. Louisiana State Board of Education, 281 U.S. 370 (1930), the Supreme Court upheld the state law involved as intending to benefit the child, not the religion. This “child-benefit” principle has played an important role in subsequent rulings.

A second major principle that has emerged through case law is “neutrality”—the idea that government must do nothing to either aid or hinder religion. In the landmark case of Lemon v. Kurtzman, 403 U.S. 602 (1971), the Court was confronted with state laws in Rhode Island and Pennsylvania that allowed the state to directly support salaries of teachers in religiously affiliated and private schools, as long as they taught secular (as opposed to religious) subjects. The Court struck down these laws on the ground that they violated the third prong of a three-part test which these justices advanced as a guide in deciding Establishment Clause cases.

Under the Lemon test, for the legislation in question to be found constitutional:

> the purpose must be secular, not sectarian

> the primary effect must be neither to advance nor hinder religion

> there must be no excessive entanglement between state and church

The Court recognized that it might be hard for teachers in a religiously affiliated school to avoid teaching faith and morals, and held that it would impermissibly involve the state in these schools if state authorities were to closely monitor the teaching to make sure that it was secular.

The Court has also struck down laws providing instructional equipment and field-trip transportation for religiously affiliated schools. The rationale for striking down some forms of aid and approving others is that the impermissible ones would benefit religiously affiliated education itself, rather than the child. Thus, aid for field-trip transportation was struck down because the school would control the timing, frequency, and destination of the trips, which the Court regarded as aid to the schools and not to the students.

Some commentators believe that the Court signaled a major change in its thinking in a 1997 decision that directly overturned one of its earlier rulings. In 1985, the Court held that the New York City Board of Education’s program to provide Title I services to religious school students was unconstitutional. Title I of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act of 1965 allocates funds to provide remedial educational services to economically disadvantaged students attending public or private schools, whether sectarian or nonsectarian. New York sent public school teachers into private school classrooms during regular school hours (termed the “on-premises program”). The Court held that to ensure that the on-premises program was exclusively secular in content impermissibly entangled church and state (Aguilar v. Felton, 473 U.S. 402 [1985]).

But in 1997, the Court directly reversed that ruling. In Agostini v. Felton, 521 U.S. 203 [1997], the Court disavowed the view that “all governmental aid that directly aids the educational function of religious schools” is unconstitutional. In the Court’s view, public money that is made available to all eligible students for secular educational purposes does not run afoul of the Establishment Clause.

The Court also abandoned the notion that the on-premises program requires excessive monitoring of teachers to assure that the content of lessons is secular. The Court reasoned that teachers deliver secular educational services under Board guidelines designed to ensure that the services are provided in a neutral manner. The Court believed there is little risk that anyone would think the mere fact that public school teachers provide these services in religious schools indicates that the Board has placed its imprimatur on the religious doctrine advanced by the schools.


Enter the Voucher Question

The entry of the voucher question into court deliberations over church-state separation has been a phenomenon of the past decade, and results from the educational and public policy questions sketched briefly above. The best-known voucher programs now in operation are those in Milwaukee and Cleveland. They were created out of the widespread belief that the schools in these cities were failing to educate students, and particularly children from economically disadvantaged families. These two programs are similar, but have noteworthy differences.

In Milwaukee, students are eligible for school tuition vouchers if their family income is no more than 175% of the federal poverty level; about 65,000 to 70,000 of the district’s children meet this standard. Participation in the voucher program is limited to 15% of the total enrollment in the public school system, amounting to about 15,700 students, or roughly a quarter of those eligible. The program is funded by state education funds that would otherwise have gone to the Milwaukee Public School system.

About 80 nonpublic schools in Milwaukee participate in the voucher program. While 30 or so of these schools are secular, the vast majority of voucher students are enrolled in Catholic schools, because they are more affordable and have opened more slots for voucher students. Students are chosen to receive vouchers through a lottery. The state issues a check made payable to the school and the parents of the student. This check covers the amount the state spends per-pupil in the Milwaukee Public Schools—about $4900—or less, if the private schoo#146;s operating costs are lower.

The voucher program in Cleveland also uses a lottery system, with 60% of voucher students coming from families below the poverty level. Recipients receive a fixed percentage of the tuition charged by the alternative school of their choice, or up to $2,500. Students whose family income is not more than 200% of the federally established poverty level receive 90% of their school tuition; other scholarship recipients whose family income is above this threshold receive 75% of their tuition. About 3800 students (nearly 5% of the public school enrollment) currently use vouchers.

Some voucher plans are of different origin. For more than 100 years, Maine and Vermont have provided tuition subsidies for children in rural school districts that do not have their own public high schools or, in some cases, elementary schools. In Vermont, about 18% of the state’s high school population lives in one of these “tuitioning” towns. Students receive tuition—up to the average amount of public per-pupil funding—to attend either public schools in adjacent school districts or private nonsectarian schools. At one time, both states permitted parents to spend their tuition grants at religiously affiliated schools, but this is not the case at present.


The Constitutional Dimensions of Vouchers

To date, courts have been divided as to whether vouchers are constitutionally permissible or violate the wall between church and state. In part, this is because voucher proposals differ, and even a relatively minor variation from one to another may tip the balance. Another reason for divided opinion is that a number of voucher cases have been brought under state constitutions. Naturally, these constitutions differ, and their variations also affect judicial decisions.

Across the country, similar lines are being drawn by litigants in battles over the constitutionality of government-funded tuition voucher programs. Opponents of vouchers contend that the Establishment Clause is violated whenever religiously affiliated schools receive vouchers financed by public monies. Voucher proponents insist that there is no constitutional problem so long as it is the parent or student who is deciding where the money will be used. They also deny that vouchers create a financial incentive for parents to choose religious schools over private secular schools or public schools.

But while the legal arguments are essentially the same, the outcomes in different cases have varied sharply, as can be seen in the following review of cases arising in different states.



In Jackson v. Benson (June 1998), the Wisconsin Supreme Court rejected an Establishment Clause challenge to the Milwaukee Parental Choice Program (described above) that permits students from low-income families to attend any approved private school of their choice, religious or not.

According to the Wisconsin court, this program satisfied the three-pronged Lemon test for analyzing Establishment Clause claims. First, the Wisconsin program had a secular purpose: to increase educational opportunities available to children from low-income families. Second, it did not have the primary effect of advancing religion, since the program aided “both sectarian and nonsectarian institutions” on the basis of “neutral, secular criteria” that neither favored nor disfavored religion; moreover, participation in the program resulted from “numerous private choices” of individual parents. Third, the program would not result in “excessive government entanglement” with religion, because it did not involve the government in the schools’ governance, curriculum, or day-to-day affairs.



In April 1999, the Supreme Court of Maine in Bagley v. Maine came to the opposite conclusion from the Wisconsin decision. Bagley is a near mirror image of Jackson v. Benson. But, whereas the Wisconsin plan ended up in court because voucher opponents objected to the legislature’s decision to amend the law to include religious schools in its tuition voucher program, just the opposite happened in Maine, where religiously affiliated schools were formerly part of the state’s voucher program. In 1981, the legislature amended the law to exclude religiously affiliated schools from receiving tuition subsidies. Parents who wanted to send their children to private religious schools sued the local school district and the state department of education on the ground that this exclusion violated their rights under the Establishment Clause, the Free Exercise Clause, and the Equal Protection Clause of the U. S. Constitution.

The Maine court applied the same Lemon test as the Wisconsin court, but came to a starkly different conclusion. Whereas the Wisconsin court viewed the state’s decision not to monitor the sectarian school using public funds as a plus (because it avoided Lemon’s “excessive entanglement” prong), the Bagley majority found that this same lack of control caused Maine’s program to trip over Lemon’s second prong: the requirement that state action not have “the impermissible effect of advancing religion.” “Although the school is chosen by parents, not the State,” the Maine court reasoned, “choice alone cannot overcome the fact that the tuition program would directly pay religious schools for programs that include and advance religion.”



The voucher case most in the news comes from Cleveland, where, on December 20, 1999, a federal district judge issued a permanent injunction against that city’s voucher program, which he determined violated the First Amendment’s establishment clause. (The parties have agreed to let the children continue attending religious schools under the program until the Sixth Circuit of Appeals rules on the city’s appeal.)

In 1995, the Cleveland public schools were judged to be doing such a poor job of educating students that a U.S. district court ordered the state to take over the schools and address the problem. Among other things, the state created a voluntary “Ohio Pilot Scholarship Program” whereby low-income Cleveland students could enter a lottery offering scholarships of up to $2,500 to attend either a private school of their choice, or any public school in any adjacent suburban school district.

The area’s Catholic schools agreed to participate in the program, but none of the suburban public schools indicated willingness to accept any of the low-income scholarship students. This left the state in the position of funding the switch by students to a good number of religious schools, only a few non-religious private schools, and no public schools at al#151;a circumstance that in the court’s view had the primary effect of advancing religion. Like the Maine court, the district court also voiced its concern that the program did not plan to monitor the religiously affiliated schools to ensure that scholarship monies were spent only on secular educational purposes.

The Continuing Debate

Twice during 1999, the Supreme Court declined to hear appeals on school voucher cases (in Maine and Vermont). Unless and until the Court agrees to hear an appeal on school vouchers, the constitutional debate will doubtless go on. Even if the Court chooses to decide a case, there may be unresolved issues after the Court has spoken, since the decision could well be closely tied to the facts of the particular case, and thus leave many questions unanswered.

The school voucher controversy involves some of our most cherished freedoms and beliefs about the practice of religion, the separation of church and state, and the role of public education in our society. It is hoped that this article will help students to understand, consider, and discuss the constitutional questions that bear on the national discussion over school vouchers programs.

Charles White is senior editor of the American Bar Association’s Division for Public Education. Charles F. Williams, editor of the Division’s periodical Preview of U.S. Supreme Court Cases, contributed the legal analyses of cases in Wisconsin, Ohio, and Maine.

A True Debate

(Note: The following statements are excerpted from Focus on Law Studies 15, No. 2 (Winter 1999), a newsletter published by the American Bar Association’s Division for Public Education.)


In Support of School Vouchers


“In 1997, the Court took the unusual step of reversing its prior opinion in the same case to allow public school teachers to assist students in religiously affiliated schools. In Agostini v. Felton the Court recognized that exclusion of religiously affiliated schools from government programs affording secular benefits to the participants is more properly understood as hostility to religion than neutrality.

“It now seems clear that school-choice programs may constitutionally include religiously affiliated schools if they are properly constructed. Three rules should be observed.

“First, parents or other non-government parties should determine where the funds should be applied. Establishing individual trust accounts for each student, or issuing individual vouchers may be the safest course.

“Second, participation should be determined by neutral criteria, with no incentive or disincentive to choose religious schools.

“Third, governmental regulation of the educational providers should be kept to the minimum necessary to ensure the government’s educational objectives are achieved.

“Compliance with these rules should ensure the program’s constitutionality under the federal religion jurisprudence.”


—Teresa Stanton Collett, Professor of Law, South Texas College of Law, Houston, Texas



In Opposition to School Vouchers


“The Supreme Court has said that the Establishment Clause prevents state support of religious education even ‘though it purports to be paying for a secular one, and even though it makes its aid available to secular and religious institutions alike’ (Roemer v. Md. Board of Pub. Works, 426 U.S. 736 [1976]). Vouchers accomplish exactly what the Establishment Clause forbids—they provide substantial government aid to religion. The line the Court has drawn is between support for religion and support for secular government services. Unlike past aid that the Court has allowed, the vouchers will be used for education that has a strong religious component. As noted in Lemon, the secular and religious missions of religiously affiliated schools are ‘inextricably intertwined.’

“Vouchers could be used for nonsectarian private schools without violating the Constitution, but in fact the overwhelming majority of nonpublic elementary and secondary schools are church-affiliated. They already have facilities and students, which would give them a competitive advantage over attempts to organize new secular private schools. In addition they would have an advantage in resources, since they could obtain support from their religious bodies as well as from the state. Furthermore not all religions would benefit equally. Vouchers would advantage larger religious institutions, as they would find it easier to gather enough students to operate a viable school.”


—Caren Dubnoff, Associate Professor of Political Science at College of the Holy Cross, Worcester, Massachusetts


Teaching Activities

Howard Kaplan

Discussions about school voucher plans have become a key part of our ongoing national debate about the nature of public education and how it relates to the constitutional principle of church-state separation. As a public policy issue that directly affects teachers and students, it is an important and valuable topic for discussion in the classroom. Suggested below are questions and activities to aid classroom discussion. They are followed by a list of annotated resources, both print and websites, that can be used to help build understanding of, and context for, this issue.


1. The accompanying article by Charles White and Charles Williams highlights school voucher programs in Milwaukee, Cleveland, and New England (Maine and Vermont). Additional information about these plans can be found in the resources listed below. Assign students in groups to examine these plans. Ask them to consider the following questions for each case:

> How and for what purposes are school vouchers being used in this case?

> For what kinds of schools can they be used? All private schools—including sectarian and nonsectarian schools? Public schools outside of the child’s school district?

> In what kinds of schools are vouchers mostly being used?

> Are vouchers limited to a specified number of students?

> How much money do the vouchers provide?

> What do plan proponents see as the plan’s benefits?

> What do plan opponents see as the plan’s costs or limitations?

> Has this voucher plan been challenged in court? If so, by whom? On what constitutional grounds?


2. When used to provide public funds indirectly to support sectarian religious schools, voucher plans may violate the constitutional prohibition against government “establishment” of religion. Again, students can use the Williams and White article for a basic outline of the main principles involved. Assign students to research the following questions (either individually or in groups):

> What is the Establishment Clause?

> Where is it found in the U.S. Constitution?

> How has it been interpreted by the U.S. Supreme Court?

> What cases involving schools and the Establishment Clause has the Court decided?

> Which cases are especially important? Why?

> Who is challenging the constitutionality of school voucher plans? On what basis?

Students can find more information/dicussion of these questions in the “Religion” article by Frederick Gedicks (print); the ABA website on school vouchers; the Oyez Project website on Supreme Court cases; and, for various advocacy positions, the websites of the ACLU of Florida, the Freedom Forum, People for the American Way, the Heritage Foundation (Clint Bolick), Policy Review, and others.


3. Refer to “A Parent’s Guide to Religion in the Public Schools,” or other guidelines and statements distributed by the U.S. Department of Education (accessible at its website on religion and public schools). Share the parent’s guide with students, or review key questions and answers. Pose these questions to your students:

> What is the place of religion in the public schools under current law?

> May students express their religious faith while in public school?

> May students pray together in public schools?

> Is it constitutionally permissible to teach about religion in an academic manner?

> Is it constitutionally permissible to teach religion in a devotional manner?

Follow up discussion by asking students why they think the answer on teaching religion devotionally is “no,” but the answer on teaching about religion is “yes.” What is the distinction? Do they think the law is fair? Ask them what they learned about the current law on religion from the guide.


Howard Kaplan


Ascher, Carol, Norm Fruchter and Robert Berne. Hard Lessons: Public Schools and Privatization. New York: Twentieth Century Fund, 1996. This book is part of a series of studies on the privatization of public services. It examines experiments with privatizing schools around the country and concludes that claims of improving educational quality and saving money have been, at best, overstated.

Chubb, John E. and Terry M. Moe. Politics, Markets and America’s Schools. Washington, DC: Brookings Institute, 1990. In this highly influential book, Brookings fellow Chubb and Stanford political scientist Moe urge a new system of public education based on competition and choice.

Doerr, Edd, Albert J. Menendez and John M. Swomley. The Case Against School Vouchers. Amherst, New York: Prometheus Books, 1997. The authors argue that voucher proposals threaten religious freedom and the democratic structure of American education.

Friedman, Milton. “The Role of Government in Education” in Robert A. Solo, ed., Economics and the Public Interest. New Brunswick, NJ: Rutgers University Press, 1955. This essay by Nobel Prize-winning economist Milton Friedman is cited by many as the intellectual genesis of the school voucher movement. Friedman advanced a universal voucher plan that would provide funds to parents to educate their children in K-12 public or sectarian schools of their choice. His model was the G.I. Bill, which provided funds for higher education to veterans of WWII.

Gedicks, Frederick Marks, “Religion” in Kermit L. Hall, ed., The Oxford Companion to the Supreme Court. New York: Oxford University Press, 1992. This article provides an historical overview of the constitutional law of religion, including an analysis of the origins of the First Amendment’s religion clauses and of the development of constitutional interpretation in this area in the twentieth century.

Peterson, Paul and Bryan C. Hassel, eds. Learning from School Choice. Washington, DC: Brookings Institute, 1998. This book provides case studies of voucher programs, surveys charter schools, discusses constitutional issues, and studies the effects of private education on democratic values. Contributors include economists, political scientists, and education specialists.

Viteritti, Joseph. Choosing Equality: School Choice, the Constitution, and Civil Society. Washington, DC: Brookings Institute, 1999. Viteritti, research professor of public administration at New York University, argues in favor of a school choice policy targeted to benefit the poor. He contends that this would advance a commitment to educational equality and would be consistent with a pluralist constitutional model envisioned by James Madison.



This American Bar Association Division for Public Education website features a debate on the questions, “Are School Vouchers a Good Idea? Should Religious Schools be Eligible to Participate?” South Texas law professor Teresa Stanton Collett answers “yes” and Holy Cross political scientist Caren Dubnoff responds “no.” The site links to relevant state court decisions, readings, and other related sites. The companion “full text” print issue of Focus on Law Studies (Fall 1999) is available from the ABA.

The American Civil Liberties Union of Florida’s “Case of the Month” for August 1999 featured Holmes v. Bush, the ACLU of Florida lawsuit challenging the constitutionality of that state’s school voucher plan. The site includes a lesson plan, student handouts, a summary of legal issues, an overview of school vouchers in Florida, and a debate between ACLU National President Nadine Strossen and voucher advocate Clint Bolick.

Americans United for Separation of Church and State is a religious freedom watchdog group founded in 1947. Its website features legal analyses of school voucher cases and of the Agostini decision by the U.S. Supreme Court, press releases on recent school voucher cases, and an online pamphlet, “Education Vouchers: Fact vs. Myth.”

The U.S. Department of Education maintains an extensive, up-to-date website on religion and the public schools. It includes religious guidelines for public schools, official statements issued by the Secretary (including a December 1999 one to principals), and online guides for teachers, school officials and parents. The parent’s guide, issued by the National PTA and the Freedom Forum, is designed in an accessible question-and-answer format. This guide and the federal government guidelines draw from “Religion in the Public Schools: A Joint Statement of Current Law.” First published in 1995, the joint statement was issued by a diverse coalition of religious and educational organizations ( Among its questions: “Is it constitutional to teach about religion in the public schools?”

This November 1999 issue of Education Week online, titled “Choice and Vouchers,” summarizes positions of proponents and opponents, explains various types of voucher proposals, includes a glossary of key terms, points to links from related organizations, and features articles from Education Week archives.

Education Week provides an online overview of school funding, including how matters of school financing can become constitutional issues. Includes helpful links to related sites and articles from Education Week archives.

Part of the Freedom Forum’s website on freedom of religion, this series examines school vouchers in the context of church-state separation. The Freedom Forum is a “nonpartisan, international foundation dedicated to free press, free speech and free spirit for all people.”

In “School Choice, the Law, and the Constitution: A Primer for Parents and Reformers,” Clint Bolick examines the constitutional background to school choice and vouchers and outlines rules for designing legally sound school choice programs. The article was prepared for the Heritage Foundation by Bolick, vice president and litigation director for the Washington, DC-based Institute for Justice. Bolick is one of the leading legal advocates for school choice/voucher programs.

The Northwestern University Oyez Project is an online multimedia database of the U.S. Supreme Court. Go to Cases/Search by Subjects/Freedom of Religion for abstracts, full decisions and oral arguments for 36 key cases, from Everson v. Board of Education (1947) to Agostini v. Felton (1997).

The 31st annual Phi Delta Kappan/Gallup Poll of the “Public’s Attitudes Toward the Public Schools” includes questions on alternatives to public schools and on vouchers.

This People for the American Way website on education includes a nationwide roundup of school voucher legislation, education litigation in the courts, and policy papers on vouchers. Among PFAW’s goals are promoting strong public schools and preventing religious coercion in public schools.

This resource website on “school choice” includes hundreds of links to diverse content providers dating back to 1995. provides research and perspectives on numerous public policy issues. Its aim is to provide a nonpartisan, unbiased comprehensive “channe#148; of reliable public policy information.

In a January 1999 article, Washington, DC lawyer Nathan Lewin answers “Are Vouchers Constitutional?” in the affirmative, analyzes relevant court cases, and proposes how to design programs that will not violate the constitutional prohibition against establishment of religion. Policy Review is published by the Heritage Foundation. The Foundation also publishes School Choice: What’s Happening in the States (1999) in print (1.800.544.4843) and online ( editions.

“On Thin Ice: How Advocates and Opponents Could Misread the Public’s Views on Vouchers and Charter Schools” is a Fall 1999 education survey from Public Agenda, a “nonprofit, nonpartisan public opinion research and citizen education organization.” The survey is a comprehensive examination of national attitudes about alternatives to public schools. One of its principal findings is that most Americans know very little about vouchers and related subjects. The survey is summarized on Public Agenda Online and can be ordered in full text via the website or by phone at 212-686-6610 x40. Public Agenda, with the Kettering Foundation, also published a 1999 national issues forum guide on “Public Schools: Is There a Way to Fix Them?”

“A Bold Experiment to Fix City Schools” by Matthew Miller appeared in the July 1999 issue of The Atlantic Monthly. Miller reviews the current debate about school voucher programs and asserts that what is missing from most policy discussions is a “progressive pro-voucher perspective.” He proposes an experimental urban schools program that would use vouchers to equalize inequities in America’s current system of financing public schools primarily through local property taxes. The online edition includes a discussion forum and numerous links, including to, an October 1997 Peter Schrag article on “The Near-Myth of Our Failing Schools,” a historical and cross-cultural comparative assessment.


Howard Kaplan is director of planning and coordinated services for the American Bar Association’s Division for Public Education.



More Voices in the School Vouchers Debate


“There is no question there are real problems with public education in the United States. However, as with other “quick fixes,” vouchers ultimately do not “fix” the problem, but only aggravate it, and threaten the separation of church and state as well. Not only are they constitutionally problematic, they are bad public policy.”

Anti-Defamation League


“The strongest critics of school choice argue that the moment a dollar of public funds crosses a religious school threshold, it violates the First Amendment. Of course that cannot be the case, for such educational benefits as Pell Grants, the G.I. Bill, and federal daycare vouchers all can be used in religiously affiliated entities. School choice works the same way: Parents choose where to direct their children’s education funds.”

The Heritage Foundation

“. . . voucher plans and tuition tax credits . . . undermine public education, reduce the support needed to adequately fund public education, and have the potential for racial, economic, and social segregation of children.”

National Education Association


“Vouchers equalized the power of choice. School choice puts vouchers—the power of money—in the hands of the parents of low-income children. Schools wanting that money—whether public or not—have to attract and keep the interest of our children and their parents. ”

John Norquist, Milwaukee mayor,
hosted by the Center for Education Reform


“Religious schools represent 85% of the total private school enrollment in the United States. These schools properly serve as arms of religious ministries and incorporate religious values and doctrine throughout their curriculum and should not be funded by taxpayer dollars.”

American Civil Liberties Union

Free Guide Available

You can receive a free planning guide for Law Day 2000—May 1, 2000—simply by contacting the ABA at the address below. The 64-page planning guide has sample lessons for every grade level on speaking up for democracy and diversity—this year’s Law Day emphasis. Also included are other Law Day programs for schools, school-based competitions, and more. Law Day is one of many programs offered by the ABA Division for Public Education, which provides learning tools for increasing understanding of the law and legal system, as well as the role of citizens in a democracy. Access the guide online at or, for your printed copy, contact:

Law Day

Division for Public Education (15.3)

American Bar Association

541 North Fairbanks Court

Chicago, IL 60611-3314

Tel.: 312-988-5735

Fax: 312-988-5494