Are vouchers a constitutional entitlement?

February 28, 2020 12:25 am

Stock image from Pixabay.

During testimony before the Ohio General Assembly Conference Committee on SB 9 (the voucher deal) most of the pro-voucher witnesses claimed they, as taxpayers, are legally entitled to school vouchers.

Their line of argument is that they are entitled to vouchers because some of their tax money is sent to the public common school system, and they don’t want to use the public system. Therefore tax funds should be transferred to them as individuals to pay tuition to a private school.

Many taxpayers do not have children. Should they receive a voucher that can be used to help pay their taxes or be exempt from certain taxes? Should citizens that don’t use public parks and recreational areas be issued a voucher that can be used to subsidize a membership in a private country club?

Pro-voucher testifiers suggest that tax money should follow students wherever they go to school. Wrong. Tax revenue should follow the students to the public common school as required by the Ohio Constitution.

There were a variety of schools — charity schools, private religious schools, private secular schools, public — when delegates to the Constitutional Convention of 1850-1851 debated education. The focus of their discussions and debates was on establishing a state-supported school system that would be common to all; hence Article VI §2 states:

The General Assembly shall make such provisions, by taxation, or otherwise, as, with the income arising from the school trust fund, will secure a thorough and efficient system of common schools throughout the state; but no religious or other sect, or sects, shall ever have any exclusive right to, or control of, any part of the school funds of this state.

There is no record in the proceedings of the Convention that any of the delegates suggested tax revenues be used for any school other than the common school. The same is true of the proceedings of the 1912 Constitutional Convention when Article VI §3 was crafted. It states:

Provision shall be made by law for the organization, administration and control of the public school system of the state supported by public funds: provided, that each school district embraced wholly or in part within any city shall have the power by referendum vote to determine for itself the number of members and the organization of the district board of education, and provision shall be made by law for the exercise of this power by such school districts.

Vouchers do not fit the mold of any constitutional provision for public education. There is absolutely no constitutional authority for vouchers. It is disheartening that the voucher fiasco looms large while the common school system has been unconstitutional for nearly a quarter century.

The Ohio Constitution does not entitle anyone to a school voucher.

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William L. Phillis

William L. Phillis is the executive director of The Ohio Coalition for Equity and Adequacy of School Funding. Previously he was Assistant Superintendent Ohio Department of Education of Public Instruction from 1976 to 1992.