Education, From The Capitol To The Classroom

Indiana's School Voucher Law To Go Before State Supreme Court This Week

    Elle Moxley/StateImpact Indiana

    Choir teacher Kathy Gorr leads students at St. Charles Catholic School in Bloomington in a song praising God.

    The Indiana Supreme Court will hear oral arguments Wednesday in a constitutional challenge of the state’s voucher law, which allows families to pay private school tuition using tax dollars. From The Times of Northwest Indiana:

    A group of 12 plaintiffs, including Glenda Ritz, the newly elected state superintendent of public instruction, claim the vouchers violate three sections of the Indiana Constitution and say the program must be canceled.

    Specifically, they argue state support of selective private schools whose tuition charge exceeds the voucher’s value runs afoul of the the Constitution’s requirement that Indiana operate a “uniform system of common schools, wherein tuition shall be without charge, and equally open to all.”

    In addition, the challengers say using tax dollars to pay tuition at religious schools is barred by the Constitution’s prohibition against compelling a person to “support any place of worship … against his consent,” and its ban on using state funds “for the benefit of any religious or theological institution.”

    A Marion County judge ruled in August that Indiana’s voucher law doesn’t violate the state constitution because taxpayer dollars aren’t flowing directly into parochial schools. Students have been allowed to continue using the vouchers as the case moves forward.

    In 2002, the U.S. Supreme Court upheld an Ohio voucher law on the grounds the state wasn’t directly funding religious schools, but giving voucher money to parents who chose to spend it at private institutions. But Superintendent-elect Ritz and other plaintiffs challenging Indiana’s law argue that vouchers siphon resources away from public schools.

    Indiana’s program is considered one of the most expansive in the country — though there were caps of 7,500 and 15,000 the first two years, next year there’s no limit to the number of families that can apply for vouchers. School choice advocates have praised Indiana’s program for reaching into the middle income levels: A family of four making up to $62,000 per year could get a partial tuition scholarship from the state to attend a private school.

    That’s led to some concern that parents who would otherwise pay to send their kids to private school will instead apply for tuition credits from the state. In August, we wrote about a large, Catholic family who left St. Charles School in Bloomington last year because they couldn’t afford to pay tuition for five kids. They were able to return for the 2012-13 because they had spent a year in public school, a condition of the voucher program.

    We’ll have more from Indiana Public Broadcasting’s Brandon Smith later Monday.


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