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U.S. Supreme Court Ducks Wisconsin Voucher Controversy.

The U.S. Supreme Court has declined to review Wisconsin's voucher law, leaving intact a religious school aid program in Milwaukee.

The high court's Nov. 9 action does not mean that vouchers are constitutional and sets no national precedent. Nevertheless, voucher opponents were disappointed, saying they had hoped the Supreme Court would agree to hear the Jackson v. Benson case and strike down the voucher scheme. Only one justice, Stephen G. Breyer, voted to hear the case.

Americans United helped bring the lawsuit, which challenged a 1995 law in Wisconsin that expanded that state's private school "choice" plan to include religious schools. The program, put in place in 1990, was originally limited to non-sectarian private schools. When it was expanded to include parochial schools, Americans United, the American Civil Liberties Union and education groups filed suit in the Wisconsin courts.

Two state courts struck down the plan as a violation of the church-state separation provisions of the Wisconsin Constitution, but last June the Wisconsin Supreme Court overturned those rulings and upheld the aid scheme.

In a press statement issued Nov. 9, Americans United Executive Director Barry W. Lynn pointed out that the high court's action sets no national precedent. Lynn also predicted that the issue would be back before the Supreme Court soon.

"Sooner or later the Supreme Court will have to deal with the issue of vouchers," Lynn said. "The justices took a pass today, but they cannot dodge the issue forever."

Continued Lynn, "This action by the court means only that Milwaukee's program may proceed. It does not amount to a high court blessing of tax aid to religious schools."

Lynn noted that other challenges to tax aid for religious schooling in Vermont, Ohio, Maine, Pennsylvania and Arizona are winding their way through state and federal courts and will give the Supreme Court another opportunity to address the issue in the future.

Pro-voucher organizations insisted that the high court's action would spur more voucher activity in the states. The court's refusal to hear the case, said attorney Clint Bolick of the Institute for Justice, "provides a green light for other states to proceed with the most promising education reform on the horizon."
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Publication:Church & State
Date:Dec 1, 1998
Words:364
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