Breaking news out of Indiana where the state Supreme Court has upheld the state’s voucher program.
While Indiana’s Choice Scholarship imposes income caps, they are broader than most voucher programs. The amount of the voucher depends on family income and size. For example, a family of five can qualify for half the $4,500 voucher with an annual income of up to $76,5007.
The ruling, on a teachers union-supported lawsuit from 2011, ends the legal challenge to the program at the state level. The case could be made again in federal court. But in 2002 the U.S. Supreme Court upheld a similar program in Ohio, making any further appeal a long shot.
The Indiana case began shortly after the program was created in 2011 when a group of teachers, school officials and parents who oppose vouchers sued the state, arguing the program was unconstitutional.
Vouchers allow low income families to redirect tax dollars from their local public school district to pay tuition when their children transfer to private schools.
Teresa Meredith, Indiana State Teachers Association vice president and a plaintiff in the lawsuit, said the decision was a disappointment.
“Its not great news for every public school kid across state of Indiana,” she said. “Fundamentally at the bottom of it all, we are on very different philosophical ground about what taxpayer dollars should be used for. This is funding a religious activity with public dollars.”
The decision was met with approval by the pro voucher advocates, including the Friedman Foundation for Educational Choice, which issued this statement:
The Indiana Supreme Court upheld of the program by a vote of 5-0, ruling “the voucher program expenditures do not directly benefit religious schools but rather directly benefit lower-income families with school-children by providing an opportunity for such children to attend non-public schools if desired.”
“Kids and parents won today,” said Robert Enlow, president and CEO of the Friedman Foundation for Educational Choice. “With this announcement, Indiana should move immediately to make this opportunity available to more families, and other states should look at this victory and see that the education establishment’s ability to obstruct families’ freedom to choose is waning.”
The Meredith v. Daniels lawsuit moved to the state Supreme Court after a Marion County Superior Court judge ruled in favor of the program in January 2012. Judge Michael Keele rejected the plaintiffs’ argument the Choice Scholarship Program violated the Indiana Constitution’s Blaine Amendment, which prohibits state treasury money from being used explicitly for the benefit of religious or theological institutions.
Judge Keele noted that scholarship recipients can “choose to use the funding for education at a public, secular private, or religious private school.” Such was the opinion of the U.S. Supreme Court in 2002, when it upheld the constitutionality of Cleveland’s school voucher program.
“School choice continues to prove its successes nationwide,” Enlow added, “whether that’s in schools, homes, legislatures, or courtrooms. The issue is about giving families the right to find the best educational setting for their kids, pure and simple. Protectors of the status quo should stop standing in the way of kids and rather work to increase the availability of high-quality educational options.”
Indiana’s legislature currently is reviewing a proposal to expand the Choice Scholarship Program. In the program’s second year, 9,324 low- and middle-income families are participating. The expansion would allow siblings of voucher recipients, children with special needs, kids in foster care, and K-12 dependents of military members to qualify for vouchers. It also would increase the cap on the individual voucher amount to $6,500 from its current $4,500.
–From Maureen Downey, for the AJC Get Schooled blog