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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.

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