Under the Private Choice Test developed by the court, for a voucher program to be constitutional it must meet all of the following criteria:
The court ruled that the Ohio program met the five-part test in that 1) the valid secular purpose of the program was "providing educational assistance to poor children in a demonstrably failing public school system", 2) the vouchers were given to the parents, 3) the "broad class" was all students enrolled in currently failing programs, 4) parents who received vouchers were not required to enroll in a religious-based school, and 5) there were other public schools in adjoining districts, as well as non-sectarian private schools in the Cleveland area, available that would accept vouchers.
Chief Justice Rehnquist, writing for the majority, stated that "The incidental advancement of a religious mission, or the perceived endorsement of a religious message, is reasonably attributable to the individual aid recipients not the government, whose role ends with the disbursement of benefits." They found that, in theory, there is no need for parents to use religious schools, and so long as the law does not especially encourage the use of vouchers for religious schools, the fact that most parents do choose parochial schools is irrelevant. Indeed, the fact that in this case, the funding was given to the parents to disburse as they chose, whereas in Lemon v. Kurtzman the funding at question was given directly to the schools, this was a key part of the Private Choice test. The majority held, therefore, that the intent of the law was the important thing.
In his concurring opinion, Justice Thomas emphasized that voucher programs like the one in this case were essential because "failing urban public schools disproportionately affect minority children most in need of educational opportunity." He stated that vouchers and other forms of publicly funded private school choice are necessary to give families an opportunity to enroll their children in more effective private schools. Otherwise, "the core purposes of the Fourteenth Amendment" would be frustrated.
The dissenting opinions, on the other hand, disagreed with Chief Justice Rehnquist: Justice Stevens wrote "... the voluntary character of the private choice to prefer a parochial education over an education in the public school system seems to me quite irrelevant to the question whether the government's choice to pay for religious indoctrination is constitutionally permissible." Justice Souter's opinion questioned how the Court could keep Everson v. Board of Education on as precedent and decide this case in the way they did, feeling it was contradictory. He also found that religious instruction and secular education could not be separated and this itself violated the Establishment Clause.