— The Indiana Supreme Coury, in a unanimous opinion issued Tuesday, upheld Indiana’s statutory school voucher program that enables eligible parents to send their children to private schools.
The court rejected claims that the program violates provisions of the Indiana Constitution regarding education and religion. The court emphasized that Indiana’s constitution does not intend to prohibit religious institutions from receiving indirect government services “such as fire and police protection, municipal water and sewage services, sidewalks and streets,” but only prohibits expenditures directly benefiting the institutions.
The direct beneficiaries of the voucher program are not the schools, but rather the families who are free to select which schools to send their children to, the court found.
The case was originally brought against former Gov. Mitch Daniels, former Superintendent of Public Instruction Tony Bennett, and others by a group of plaintiffs that included current Superintendent of Public Instruction Glenda Ritz.
The Supreme Court’s opinion concludes that the Choice Scholarship Program is within the legislature’s power and does not violate the Indiana Constitution. The Supreme Court’s decision affirms the ruling of Marion Superior Court Judge Michael Keele, who granted judgment upholding the legislation and rejected claims of constitutional violation.
Shortly after the court’s ruling was announced, Gov. Mike Pence issued a statement that read, “I welcome the Indiana Supreme Court’s decision to uphold Indiana’s school choice program. I have long believed that parents should be able to choose where their children go to school, regardless of their income. Now that the Indiana Supreme Court has unanimously upheld this important program, we must continue to find ways to expand educational opportunities for all Indiana families.”
Indiana Chamber of Commerce President and CEO Kevin Brinegar also commended the court’s decision.
“We are pleased that the Indiana Supreme Court unanimously upheld Indiana’s school choice scholarship (voucher) law,” he said in a press release. “The Indiana Chamber of Commerce supports high quality educational opportunities for all Hoosier children — be that in a traditional public school, charter school, private school, or parochial school.
“Therefore, the Indiana Chamber fully supports policies that will assist parents in choosing and accessing the best educational settings for their children. The state’s school choice voucher program puts us on course to achieve that. Current legislation pending in the General Assembly (House Bill 1003) would further strengthen the program and allow more families to access the quality education of their choice at the start of their children’s education.”
A group calling themselves Indiana Democrats for Education Reform were firmly against the school voucher program but seems resigned with the court’s decision.
Larry Grau, state director of the group, said, “This decision effectively ends the legal debate about vouchers in Indiana. Now it’s time to continue the conversation about creating high-quality schools and educational opportunities for all Hoosier students.”
The Supreme Court’s 22-page opinion can be read in its entirety online at www.in.gov/judiciary/opinions/pdf/03261301bd.pdf.