Court strikes blow to school choice, Decision may force 3,800 students off scholarship program

John Kramer
John Kramer · August 24, 1999

Washington, D.C.-Only 18 hours before public schools open, a federal judge in Ohio today ruled in favor of an injunction to halt the Pilot Project Scholarship Program, a four-year old school choice program that allows parents to choose the school ­ public or private ­ that their children attend.

The Institute for Justice immediately filed an emergency appeal to the 6th Circuit Court of Appeals, seeking to have the injunction immediately overturned. “This is a potential loss for every student and family in Cleveland,” declared Clint Bolick, the Institute for Justice’s litigation director. “We will not let this decision stand without a fight.”

Five families who receive publicly funded scholarships to attend private schools in Cleveland filed papers in federal district court argued 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 month in federal court challenging the program on First Amendment grounds. In May the Ohio Supreme Court rejected an identical claim.

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 decision jeopardizes not only these children, but the Cleveland public schools as well,” Bolick observed. “Imagine what will happen now that the public schools must absorb 3,800 additional students between now and August 25th.”

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 challenge this decision with every resource at our disposal,” Bolick stated.