Voucher Case Headed to Indiana Supreme Court
Last year, the Indiana General Assembly passed a voucher program that would allow low-income families to receive state taxpayer money to pay tuition costs should their child transfer from public to private school. In January of this year, a trial court in Indiana upheld the constitutionality of the Choice Scholarship Program and stated that because the money is given to parents, who choose where to send their children, the state is not directly funding religious schools.
This past week, the Indiana Supreme Court granted a direct appeal in the case. In deciding that the case could skip the Indiana Court of Appeals and proceed directly to the highest court in Indiana, the state Supreme Court may have indicated that it felt it would end up considering the case regardless of the appeals court outcome. The plaintiffs allege that the program violates the state constitution’s ban on the use of taxpayer funds for religious institutions and that the program strips crucial resources from public schools.
In 2002, the United States Supreme Court upheld a voucher program in Ohio that awarded money to parents and allowed them to choose their child’s school, religious or otherwise. In this case, Zelman v. Harris, the court drew a distinction between indirect government funding of religion (giving money to families to give to religious schools) and direct government funding of religion (giving money to pervasively sectarian organizations). While the Zelman decision paved the way for new school voucher programs across the nation, it still raises questions of constitutionality, such as whether religious schools that receive state funds can discriminate in their admissions processes. In the wake of the Zelman decision, Indiana is just one of many states that have created voucher programs funneling state taxpayer dollars to private and religious schools, even in the face of decreased funding for public education and an outpouring of support for public education reform.
The RAC has long been an outspoken advocate for the separation of church and state and a strong opponent of school voucher programs. This year alone we have monitored a failed proposed voucher program in Pennsylvania, kept tabs on a November ballot initiative in Florida that could allow taxpayer money to flow directly to religious schools, urged the House Workforce and Education Committee to remove a voucher provision from the Elementary and Secondary Education Act reauthorization, and supported President Obama’s budget that aims to cease funding for the D.C. voucher program. Keep checking RACblog for updates on this case in Indiana and other voucher programs across the country.