Indiana Supreme Court rules school vouchers constitutional

Mar 26, 2013, 12:09 ET from The Friedman Foundation for Educational Choice

INDIANAPOLIS, March 26, 2013 /PRNewswire-USNewswire/ -- The Friedman Foundation for Educational Choice hailed today's ruling from the Indiana Supreme Court, which declared the state's school voucher program constitutional. The announcement ends a nearly two-year-long review of the nation's largest voucher initiative, for which more than half of the state's student population qualifies.

The Indiana Supreme Court upheld 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."

Following the enactment the Choice Scholarship Program in May 2011, a group of Indiana taxpayers represented by the National Education Association filed suit, claiming vouchers improperly benefited private religious schools. Parents who intervened in the case, represented by the Institute for Justice, argued the true beneficiaries of the program were the families.

"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.

Currently, 22 states and Washington, D.C., have some type of private school choice measure. In voucher programs specifically, there are 104,000 participants in 12 states and Washington, D.C.

SOURCE The Friedman Foundation for Educational Choice