Parents Intervene to Defend Cleveland School Choice Program In Federal Lawsuit

John Kramer
John Kramer · July 27, 1999

Washington, D.C.-Five families who receive publicly funded scholarships to attend private schools in Cleveland filed papers in federal district court today to defend the school choice program against legal challenge. The families are represented by the Institute for Justice, the Washington, D.C.-based public interest law firm that helped defend the program in the Ohio Supreme Court and which fights for school choice in courtrooms around the nation.

The plaintiffs, who include the Ohio Education Association, American Civil Liberties Union, and People for the American Way, filed suit last week in federal court challenging the program on First Amendment grounds and seeking a preliminary injunction to halt the program before the start of the school year. In May the Ohio Supreme Court rejected an identical claim.

“This lawsuit is outrageous,” declared Clint Bolick, the Institute for Justice’s litigation director. “If the special-interest groups prevail, they will wrench more than 3,000 youngsters out of the only good schools they have ever attended.”

In addition to the Ohio Supreme Court, similar lawsuits have been rejected by the Wisconsin and Arizona Supreme Courts, which ruled that school choice programs were permissible because parents choose where to spend their children’s public education funds.

“This lawsuit places at risk not only these children, but the Cleveland public schools as well,” Bolick observed. “Imagine what will happen if the public schools suddenly have to absorb 3,000 additional students between now and September.”

The five families who are joining the lawsuit all receive 90 percent scholarships amounting to $2,250 to attend private school in lieu of public school. The families are of modest means and likely would be forced to return their children to public schools if the injunction is granted.

“The stakes could not be higher for these children, and we’re going to fight this lawsuit with every resource at our disposal,” Bolick stated.

Cleveland City Councilwoman Fannie Lewis, who represents many of the parents and children who use the state-funded scholarships, said, “It would be a loss of time, effort, and opportunity not to defend this program in court. With the teachers’ unions being as insecure as they are, there will always be someone to fight the progress that we’ve made. Parents and children are blessed to have the Institute for Justice defend their cause for educational choice.”