Cochran et. al. v. Louisiana State School Board of Education et. al.

281 U. S. 370, 30 S. Ct. 335, 74 L. Ed. 913 (1930)

    Facts : The Louisiana Legislature enacted a statute appropriating money to supply free textbooks for the use of the school children of the State, both those in private as well as in the public schools. The plaintiffs as citizens and taxpayers of the State brought suit to enjoin the defendant State Board of Education from spending State money under the statute, on the ground that to do so would be to take the private property (in the form of tax money) for private purposes, in violation of the 14th Amendment to the federal constitution and similar provisions in the state constitution.

    Issue: Is it constitutionally permissible for a state to provide free textbooks for children attending private schools?

    Decision: Yes, injunction refused.

    1. The money is not appropriated for the use of private schools, but for the benefit of the children attending them (the "child benefit theory"). The schools are not the beneficiaries.
    2. The statute does not and could not lawfully permit the purchase from state funds for books used in religious instruction by sectarian school; thus the statute does not discriminate between public and private schools.
    3. For these reasons, the power of taxation is being exercised for a public and not a private purpose]. The education of children is a public purpose.

    Significance: This decision of the U.S. Supreme Court is significant in the area of separation between church and state, because, by adopting the child benefit theory, it holds that a state statute providing free textbooks for the pupils of both public and private schools does not violate the 14th Amendment. Undoubtedly, the decision is limited to statutes applying only to accredited schools, since if a school is not accredited, its pupils would not be in compliance with the provisions of compulsory school attendance statutes.


Corkill, Phillip. The Law and American Education. Tucson, Arizona. 1991 (Lecture presented at the Flowing Wells School District Administrative Office).

Important Landmark Cases in Educational Law

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