Education, From The Capitol To The Classroom

Indiana Supreme Court Upholds School Voucher Law

Elle Moxley / StateImpact Indiana

Private school students wait outside the Indiana Supreme Court as justices hear a challenge to the state's voucher law. Several voucher-accepting schools brought students to the statehouse in November for oral arguments.

Indiana students can continue to attend private schools using state dollars, the Indiana Supreme Court ruled Tuesday.

The state’s high court had been asked to weigh in after the Indiana State Teachers Association and other voucher opponents challenged the two-year-old Choice Scholarship Program on the grounds that most participating schools are religiously affiliated.

The ruling upholds the decision of a Marion County Superior Court judge, who ruled the program constitutional in January 2012.

Shortly after the Indiana lawmakers passed the state’s voucher law in 2011, the Center for Evaluation and Education Policy at Indiana University analyzed the basis for the legal challenge:

The report finds that the Indiana school choice legislation is crafted to avoid some of the legal pitfalls of other similar programs across other states. Carefully crafted to mirror laws that have created legal precedent, the tax deduction and tax credit programs may avoid violating the U.S. Constitution’s “Establishment Clause” because money does not go directly from the state treasury to religious institutions that may operate private schools. The Establishment Clause is in the First Amendment, and states that “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof.” However, the CEEP report notes that if in executing the Choice Scholarship program, funds are sent directly to religious institutions without filtration through the private choices of citizens, the Choice Scholarship may be more prone to being seen as “advancing religion.”

Lawyers for the state argued taxpayer dollars aren’t going directly to religious schools because parents still choose where to use the vouchers.

“It always looks like some kind of a fight, but in fact, it’s really just the way we see whether if we’ve performed according to the requirements of the constitution,” Attorney General Greg Zoeller told StateImpact in November.

About 9,000 Indiana students currently participate in the program. There’s no limit to the number of students who can apply for vouchers next year.

Indiana lawmakers are considering expanding the voucher program to make more students eligible, including siblings of current participants, military families, foster parents and students with special needs. But Sen. Luke Kenley, R-Noblesville, questioned last week whether changes to the program would run afoul of the state’s constitution.

The Indiana Law Blog has an excerpt of the ruling here.

Here’s the Supreme Court’s full opinion.

This post will be updated.


  • Brenda

    I’d rather see my taxpayer dollars going to help AMERICAN families give their AMERICAN kids’ education than see these illegals get what they don’t have a right to using taxpayer dollars.

    • Dangerous illegal alien

      A real, live Tea Partier!

  • inteach

    Every opponent of vouchers knew the state would win.

    But we’re still right.

    Vouchers allow the state to support religious schools.

    The money may go to the parents first, but we all know where it ends up.

    The vast majority of Indiana schools that receive vouchers are religious.

    And this isn’t the state making “no law respecting an establishment of religion”?

    Vouchers will not improve student achievement, will erode funding for public schools, and will eventually promote a society with more social stratification.

    But, by the time anyone notices, it will be too late.

  • Rebecca

    As a parent of one of those 9,000 very happy with the ruling. My child goes to a private school, which is Catholic because my choices are overpopulated public school with kids who have no respect for their teachers and distract my child from doing what she is is sent there to do LEARN, and a school where respect, character driven education, and an atmosphere of learning are encouraged..This liberal parent picked private school.

    • inteach

      People can send their kids to any religious school they want.

      Just don’t make me pay for it.

  • Been There Done That!

    inteach – I still hear you saying that taking the “voucher kids” out of the public schools will undermine the public schools. Lets say that every kid eligible for a voucher was removed from the public schools and placed into the private schools. that is extreme, we all know this will never happen, but for sake of arguement lets just say it did. The school still receives 10 or 50% of the funding for those children. Using the hopefully revised voucher law, there would be no special needs students, no lower SES kids, no military kids, etc. As a former school district employee, I have met many teachers who would love to be teaching in a situation like this. Personally I love working with the kids with special needs and those kids who may or may not have the family support to automatically be successful. But I have also worked with teachers who had classrooms with 8 kids with special needs, 4 kids who did not speak English, 4 kids who came in having not eaten breakfast, 6 kids whose parents wanted to do all of the right things for their kids, but had to work 3 jobs just to pay the bills and put food on the table, and 3 “shining stars” whose parents gave them everything and expected that everyone else do the same. All of these kids deserve a chance at the best that is available to them. What parent would not want the right to make a decision about where their child attends school?

    • inteach

      Public money should not be used to support religious institutions.

      Siphoning any amount of money is abdicating our commitment to public education and, ultimately, democracy.

      Vouchers will lead to social stratification and do not increase student achievement in a substantial way.

      The voucher program is an extension of a ideological vision of education where the free market produces desired change. Of course, there is no definitive study indicating vouchers work (though there is ample evident they do not).

      What other educational program would the state spend $38 million dollars on if there was no proof of its efficacy?

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