Tuesday, November 28, 2006

Supreme Court Says "No" To Vouchers.... For Now

The United States Supreme Court has just delt a blow to those in favor of school vouchers:
The Supreme Court refused Monday to take up the issue of school choice in Maine, where a state law bars the use of public funds to send students to private religious schools.

The case could have provided a platform for a court battle over school choice and the separation of church and state.

In Maine, school districts in 145 small towns with no high schools provide tuition for 17,000 students to attend high schools of their choice, public or private, in-state or out-of-state. But religious schools are not on the list.

No one involved in the case expressed surprise at the Supreme Court's refusal to consider the issue.

"At least we can say we tried everything possible to fight for the right of school choice," said Jill Guay of Minot, one of the eight parents who joined the lawsuit. Guay's oldest daughter graduated from St. Dominic Regional High School in Auburn, where her younger daughter is now a freshman.

She said Maine's tuition statute does not make sense because the tuition at her daughters' Catholic high school is less than at Poland Regional High School, which many Minot students attend with taxpayer money.

Maine Attorney General Steven Rowe said this was the third time the Supreme Court refused to take up a case challenging Maine's tuition statute.

"The Supreme Court's refusal to take the case today leaves the law courts and the Anderson case standing," said Rowe, referring to the original case, Kevin and Julia Anderson v. Durham School Department.

The conservative Institute for Justice, which represented the Maine families, asked the Supreme Court to take the case after the Maine Supreme Judicial Court upheld the controversial tuition law last spring.

Florida Gov. Jeb Bush and President Bush's home state of Texas weighed in, saying in filings with the Supreme Court that the state of Maine is unconstitutionally discriminating against religion.

Vouchers are championed by the president. Many conservatives call them a ticket out of dismal and dangerous public schools, while champions of public education say vouchers divert already scarce resources from a system badly in need of repair.

Last April, the Maine Supreme Judicial Court ruled that restrictions on tuition vouchers are a valid, constitutional enactment. The Maine court relied on a 2004 U.S. Supreme Court ruling upholding a Washington state college scholarship program prohibiting the use of scholarship funds for pursuit of a devotional theology degree.

In asking the Supreme Court to take the case, the Maine families cited the court's 2002 decision allowing the use of public funds in inner-city Cleveland to underwrite tuition at private or parochial schools.

The state of Maine's tuition system goes back to 1879 when nearly all private schools in the state were religious.

But in 1980, the state attorney general said the program violated the U.S. Constitution's Establishment Clause. The Maine Legislature made that view law in 1983. Since then, Maine families have contested the restriction several times.

The Supreme Court's latest decision puts an end to further court cases, both sides agreed.

Clark Neily, a senior attorney at the Institute for Justice, said although there is no further legal recourse for the Maine families, the issue is being played out across the country and another similar case could wind up before the Supreme Court in the next several years.
We disagree with the newspaper's assessment that the Supreme Court's refusal to review the case "puts an end to further court cases" regarding school vouchers.

To the contrary.

By not reviewing the case and issuing a definitive opinion one way or the other, the Court has left open the door to further litigation for years to come
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