America's public school systems are facing a series of major problems. The classrooms are crowded, violence is growing, and test scores are falling. Some people believe the ways the schools are funded are the reasons behind these problems. There have been several ideas brought to the courts to try to solve the funding problems. Open enrollment, more federal involvement, and local tax increases are a few of these suggestions. However, the most controversial issue is that of vouchers.
Vouchers are certificates that the government gives to parents so that their child may go to the school of the parent's choice (public or private). This type of school funding is also known as parental choice. This idea of parental choice in education is not a new concept. The first person that developed the idea that parents should be allowed to choose their children's education came from Adam Smith in 1776. He explained this theory in his book The Wealth of Nations. However, the controversies surrounding parental choice are fairly new.
The most discussed and argued issue surrounding vouchers is the inclusion of parochial schools. Many people who believe strongly in the First Amendment's establishment clause, which establishes the separation of .
church and state. This clause allows for the question of the constitutionality in the voucher program. This Constitutionality has been tried in a number of courts both at the state and Supreme Court levels. In the 1970's a series of Supreme Court rulings prohibited the use of government assistance to fund religious schools. The landmark of Lemon V. Kurtzmand in 1971 set the criteria that courts use when determining whether state action violates the First Amendment when dealing with schools and religion. In 1981 Maine amended its voucher program that was already set into place. The federal district court excluded sectarian schools from the voucher program.