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Ohio court strikes down Cleveland voucher plan

WASHINGTON (BP)–An Ohio court of appeals has struck down Cleveland’s school-choice program because it includes religious schools.
In a unanimous decision, a three-judge panel ruled permitting vouchers to be used at religious schools violates the separation of church and state found in both the United States and Ohio constitutions.
The ruling is the second judicial setback for educational choice this year. In January, a Wisconsin circuit court judge halted on church-state grounds the inclusion of religious schools in Milwaukee’s voucher program.
Last summer, a lower-court judge upheld the constitutionality of Cleveland’s school-choice plan.
The Cleveland program provided vouchers of up to $2,500 for children from low-income families, The Washington Post reported. About 80 percent of the nearly 2,000 students eligible for vouchers used them at religious schools, and most of those schools were Roman Catholic, according to The Post.
The Washington-based Institute for Justice, which represents parents in both the Cleveland and Milwaukee cases, said it would appeal immediately to the Ohio Supreme Court.
“This decision is the light before the dark,” said Clint Bolick, litigation director of the Institute for Justice, in a written statement. “This program is about delivering educational opportunities for children who desperately need them. For that reason above all, this decision will not stand.”
School-choice opponents, including teachers unions, praised the decision.
“We need to direct our energies toward providing a quality education for every child in America, not diverting precious resources from public schools to send a select, few students to religious and private schools,” said National Education Association President Bob Chase in a written statement. “Vouchers don’t address the real problems of urban children and lead us away from serious solutions for improving city schools.”
The Southern Baptist Christian Life Commission joined in a brief supporting the inclusion of religious schools in Milwaukee’s educational choice program when other private schools are participants. The brief, written by the Christian Legal Society, argued exclusion of religious schools, when other private schools are included, constitutes government discrimination against religion.
The Baptist Joint Committee on Public Affairs, which represented the Southern Baptist Convention in Washington before the CLC was given a religious liberty assignment in 1990, has consistently opposed the inclusion of religious schools in voucher programs.