Zelman v. Simmons-Harris

In Zelman v. Simmons-Harris, the Supreme Court upheld an Ohio law that provided tuition assistance to low-income students living in Cincinnati who chose to attend private schools, and academic support for students whose parents chose to keep them in public schools. The distribution of aid was based solely on financial need, and could be used for religious or secular schools at the parents’ discretion. The Court held that the law did not violate the Establishment Clause. First, the law had the valid legislative purpose of providing educational assistance to low-income families living in a failing school district. Second, the law did not have the impermissible effect of advancing or inhibiting religion because funding criteria were neutral toward religion. Funding was available to a broad class of individuals defined only by their financial need. Further, there was no financial incentive for parents to send their children to religious schools since, under the funding scheme, parents were required to co-pay a portion of the tuition at private schools, but would pay nothing if the student remained in public school. Finally, the program provided multiple options for parents to keep their children in public schools, including traditional schools, magnet, or community schools. Because the program had neither an impermissible purpose or effect, the Court found that it did not violate the Establishment Clause.

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