Education, From The Capitol To The Classroom

Voucher Program Passes Constitutional Muster In State High Court

    Elle Moxley / StateImpact Indiana

    A student at Cathedral High School works on a research paper in English class. The Indiana Supreme Court ruled Tuesday in a legal challenge of the state's voucher law, which allows students to attend private, often religious schools using taxpayer dollars.

    Opponents of school vouchers had hoped to sway the state’s high court with arguments that the two-year-old program hurts public schools. But the Indiana Supreme Court ruled Tuesday that the state’s voucher law is constitutional.

    “Obviously we have a very different root philosophy than the judges in how they interpreted the state constitution,” says Indiana State Teachers Association Vice President Teresa Meredith, one of the plaintiffs in the case. “We really, truly believe taxpayer dollars are meant to be used for public school funding, not religious education.”

    Meredith says money to pay for the voucher program comes off the top of what the state allocates for public schools. But proponents of vouchers say it’s parents the decide where their kids should attend school, not the state.

    “Hopefully this will start to have our policymakers and our public start to think about how we redefine education to stop talking about school type and start focusing on how we fund kids and how we get quality,” says Friedman Foundation for Educational Choice President Robert Enlow.

    Lawmaker Says Voucher Decision Won’t ‘Open The Floodgates’

    Even before Tuesday’s ruling, state lawmakers were already considering expanding the two-year-old voucher program to make more students eligible. From Indiana Public Broadcasting‘s Brandon Smith:

    House Education Committee Chair Bob Behning, R-Indianapolis, authored the original voucher law two years ago. He calls Tuesday’s ruling a validation of the work the legislature has done creating and implementing the program.

    “I don’t know that I think this means that all of a sudden we’re going to have vouchers everywhere in Indiana, that it’s going to open up the floodgates or anything,” says Behning.

    Rep. Kreg Battles, D-Vincennes, says the Supreme Court’s decision shifts the debate over vouchers from trying to halt them entirely to controlling their expansion.

    “Make sure there’s absolute transparency in the flow of money and how that money is used,” says Battles. “And I think there also has to be accountability, rigorous accountability, that we hold those private schools to exactly the same standards and the same rigor of accountability that we would hold charters and public schools to.”

    The House passed a voucher expansion bill earlier this session that would do away with the requirement that students spend at least one year in public school before receiving a voucher.

    Now the Senate Education Committee is weighing the merits of voucher expansion. A vote is expected Wednesday.


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