Institute for Justice Asks U.S. Supreme Court To Hear School Choice Case

John Kramer
John Kramer · May 23, 2001

Washington, D.C.-The Institute for Justice will request review by the U.S. Supreme Court in a case that may well decide the educational future of 4,000 low-income Cleveland students and the legal future of school choice.

The Washington, D.C.-based public interest law firm, which defends school choice programs across the nation, will ask the court to review and ultimately overturn a lower court ruling striking down the Cleveland Scholarship Program. The Institute represents five families whose children attend private schools on scholarships through the program.

“This is the U.S. Supreme Court test case we’ve been waiting for to remove the constitutional cloud from school choice once and for all,” said Clint Bolick, the Institute’s lead lawyer for the school choice families. “This program provides a lifeline for children trapped in Cleveland’s tragically inadequate public schools.”

This year, the Cleveland public schools failed all but three of 27 state standards for student performance. Last year, they failed all 27. The high school graduation rate is less than 50 percent, and only one in 14 students entrusted to the Cleveland public schools will graduate on time reading and performing math at grade level.

In December 2000, the Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals struck down Cleveland’s school choice program in a divisive 2-1 split decision. Judge James Ryan dissented, analyzing Supreme Court precedent that makes it “unmistakably clear that the voucher program passes constitutional muster.” The Sixth Circuit has stayed its decision pending possible Supreme Court review.

The Institute’s lawyers are hopeful the U.S. Supreme Court will agree to hear the case. The Court voted 5-4 in November 1999 to stay an injunction against the program issued by U.S. District Court Judge Solomon Oliver. While the U.S. Supreme Court has issued six consecutive rulings upholding programs analogous to school choice, lower courts are split over the constitutionality of school choice, which increases the odds that the High Court will hear the case. Indeed, this decision conflicts with a 1999 Ohio Supreme Court decision upholding the same program on First Amendment grounds.

“If this program is allowed to die, 4,000 low-income kids will be forced to leave the only good schools they’ve ever attended,” Bolick concluded. “We are confident the Supreme Court won’t allow that to happen without considering their plight.”

The Institute will file its petition tomorrow morning. A news conference featuring Cleveland parents and Institute lawyers will be held at 10:15 a.m. in the National Press Club East Room.

The plaintiffs in the case are represented by the Ohio Education Association, American Civil Liberties Union and People for the American Way. Each scholarship is worth $2,250—less than one-third of the average expenditure per student in the Cleveland public schools.