Whether public and private schools may collaborate to assure all students a quality education is at issue before the U.S. Supreme Court. The cases involve federal funds for private schools in New York City and state assistance in Grand Rapids, Michigan.

For six years, the Grand Rapids School District operated programs called Shared Time and Cooperative Education. They were devised to supplement private school curricula with remedial classes, physical education, and art instruction, among other subjects. Public school teachers with expertise in those fields were sent to private schools, where they taught in classroom space leased by the state. Private school students who participated in the special classes were designated “part-time public school students.”

All but one of Grand Rapids’ 43 private schools are church related, operated by Christian Reformed, Lutheran, Baptist, Catholic, and Seventh-day Adventist churches. The programs at issue were operating in 41 of them, with 470 teachers and 11,000 students participating each year. In 1982—when a U.S. District Court judge put a stop to them—the programs cost Michigan taxpayers $3 million.

A group of taxpayers, backed by Americans United for Separation of Church and State, filed suit against the school district, claiming that the programs trespassed the constitutional boundary between church and state. Tax money should not assist religiously oriented schools, they said, because the state would appear to be endorsing, promoting, or entangling itself with the beliefs of particular religious groups.

Grand Rapids school officials tried to circumvent the constitutional prohibition by taking scrupulous precautions. They paid rent to the private schools, posted signs that read “Grand ...

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