From Advocate, Illinois Education Association, New Edition, December 1998/January 1999, Volume 1, Issue No. 4, p. 7
U.S. High Court Fails to Hear Milwaukee Voucher Case
Washington, D.C. -- The U.S. Supreme Court in November decided not to review a controversial ruling by the Wisconsin Supreme Court allowing public tax dollars to be used for vouchers for religious schools in Milwaukee.
The voucher program has already stripped the Milwaukee public schools of millions of dollars of state aid, and the city is now poised to enact a "voucher tax" in the form of increased property taxes to avoid curriculum cuts and larger classes in the city's public schools.
NEA President Bob Chase expressed disappointment over the high court's decision, but he noted it is neither a decision to uphold nor reject the Milwaukee voucher law and does not have "precedential value" outside of Wisconsin.
The Wisconsin case is the first of its kind to reach the nation's Supreme Court, but it probably won't be the last. High courts in at least four other states - including a closely watched test case involving Cleveland, Ohio, schools - are currently examining the constitutionality of voucher laws.
"It is unfortunate Wisconsin children must wait for another case to vindicate their First Amendment rights," says Terry Craney, president of the NEA's Wisconsin affiliate. "We believe Wisconsin children and the Constitution would have been served by the court agreeing to hear this matter. This would have been an excellent case to once and for all decide the future of vouchers for religious education."
In Illinois, IEA has turned back repeated legislative efforts to adopt voucher laws, but, notes IEA President Bob Haisman, "the voucher issue will continue to come up. We must remain forever on guard."
NEA President Chase had hoped the U.S. Supreme Court would review the Milwaukee case.
"Every day," Chase points out, "the voucher plan does more damage to the Milwaukee public schools, and the city's taxpayers are paying the tab."
Chase noted that this year alone, the city's schools will lose $25 million in taxpayer dollars to private and religious schools.
"Each of the city's 5,902 voucher students takes $4, 894 in state aid from the city's schools -- even though only 1,379 of them ever previously attended Milwaukee's public schools," sums up Chase. "That's just plain wrong, and it punishes every student attending the public schools."
Last June, the Wisconsin Supreme Court ruled 4-2 in Jackson v. Benson that Milwaukee's voucher program - expanded in 1995 to include religious schools - did not violate the state or U.S. constitutions because it does not promote religion.
The NEA and its affiliates filed the primary legal challenge to the Milwaukee voucher program.