Supreme Court Defines Stands on Education, Crime, Mrs. Clinton's Notes : Public Teachers Can Aid Church Schools Justices Overturn '85 Decision on Tutoring

Article excerpt

Backing away from an earlier, rigid insistence on a separation of church and state, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled Monday that public school tutors can again enter parochial schools to provide remedial teaching to low-income children.

The 5-4 ruling will save public school systems - mainly those in big cities - a nationwide total of $15 million a year. Since 1985, the schools have spent that money on various means, mostly mobile vans, so the children could be taught outside the parochial school.

The schools resorted to the vans to comply with an earlier Supreme Court ruling that said public teachers could not work on the premises of a religious school. The Supreme Court rarely agrees to reconsider one of its own precedents, but the justices did so in this instance. Justice Sandra Day O'Connor wrote the main opinion for the court. "A federally funded program providing supplemental, remedial instruction to disadvantaged children on a neutral basis is not invalid" under the First Amendment simply because the "instruction is given on the premises" of church schools by public school employees, the ruling said. She added she saw no use in "forcing (a school district) to spend millions of dollars on mobile instructional units and leased sites when it could instead be spending that money to give economically disadvantaged children a better chance at success in life." The dilemma arose from the federal government's landmark Aid to Education Act of 1965. The measure, passed during President Lyndon B. Johnson's War on Poverty, supplied money for extra tutoring for low-income children, but it required the school districts that received the money serve children on an equal basis, regardless of whether they attended a public or private school. For 20 years, public and parochial schools worked to achieve this goal. But in 1985, the high court on a 5-4 vote ruled these cooperative arrangements were unconstitutional because they amounted to "an excessive entanglement between church and state." Teachers and school officials were not the only ones to chafe at the ruling. Several of the court's conservatives justices said it was wrongly decided and should be reversed. …