The Cleveland school voucher program evolved from the agendas of the Ohio Republican Party and conservative ideological forces. The history of the program stands in stark contrast to the rhetoric of parental empowerment.
When the Republican Party assumed control of the Ohio House in l994, voucher proponents escalated their pressure. Earlier, Gov. George Voinovich had commissioned a study of vouchers, which was headed by industrialist David Brennan. Consistent with the emerging national voucher strategy - to transform vouchers from an issue of church/state conflict and privatization of public education, to a “populist” focus on low-income students of color -the commission recommended scholarships for low-income students to attend private and religious schools.
Brennan then went on to raise $1 million for the Republican Party. After re-election, Voinovich pushed in 1995 for a voucher program for Cleveland, whose schools had just been taken over by the state. Voinovich, following the lead of the Milwaukee voucher program that started in 1990, sold the program as a way to help poor students of color. At that time, Cleveland schools were 70 percent African-American, and 88 percent of the students were eligible for the federal lunch program for low-income students.
The main beneficiary of the voucher program has clearly been the Cleveland Catholic Diocese, whose schools had been in severe financial straits following the flight of the white ethnic working class to surrounding suburbs.
Because participating schools must charge the same tuition for both voucher and non-voucher students, it has been almost impossible for non-religious private schools, especially more expensive elite schools, to take part. (As is true elsewhere, religious schools in Cleveland rely on the underpaid labor of religiously dedicated teachers, and on subsidies and support from religious institutions.)