The Supreme Court overturned its 1985 church-state decision Monday and allowed public school teachers to offer remedial help inside church-run schools.
By a 5-4 vote, the justices said sending New York City's taxpayer-paid teachers into religious schools to help students with such subjects as math, science and English does not violate the constitutionally required separation between church and state.
Nationwide, some 6.7 million children get help through the federal program known as Title I, designed to benefit children from low-income families, no matter what school they attend. About 173,000 of those students go to private schools, virtually all of which are church-affiliated. Such remedial help has been offered in mobile vans parked just off p arochial school property, in public school classrooms or by computer. Department of Education officials estimate the annual cost nationwide to be $15 million, just for the special administrative efforts. The 1985 Supreme Court ruling did not ban public school teachers from helping parochial students, but instead barred them from teaching on the property of any religiously affiliated school. The court today is far less demanding about church-state separation than it was a dozen years ago. The focus of most of its recent religious-freedom rulings has been a greater accommodation of government to the role of religion in American life. But Monday's ruling did not appear to be so broadly worded to affect in any direct way such things as organized prayers in public schools or other church-state issues. President Bill Clinton praised the court's decision. "No longer will schoolchildren have to leave their school buildings in order to get the assistance they need," he said. Judith Winston, general counsel at the Department of Education, added, "Dollars that have been diverted to the logistical nightmare can now go to instruction." New York City Mayor Rudolph Giuliani also welcomed the ruling, as did the American Federation of Teachers and the National Education Association, two teachers' groups. …