The Indiana Supreme Court unanimously upheld a lower court decision declaring the state’s school voucher program constitutional.
In its decision the court said the “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” and that “the prohibition against government expenditures to benefit religious or theological institutions does not apply to institutions and programs providing primary and secondary education.”
Indiana’s main school choice program, the Choice Scholarship Program, enacted in May 2011, is a private school voucher scholarship program for low and middle-income families, currently enrolling over 9,300 students.
The program is unique in that it is available to both middle and low-income families where most programs in other states are income restricted to low-income families.
After the program was enacted the National Education Association, a union, filed suit claiming vouchers benefited private religious schools. The Institute for Justice, representing the parents, intervened and argued that the true beneficiaries of the program were the families. The Meredith v. Daniels lawsuit moved to the state Supreme Court after a Marion Superior Court judge ruled in favor of the program in January 2012.
In upholding the law, the Indiana Supreme Court rejected claims that the law primarily benefited religious schools by accepting the arguments that it gave families choice. Further, they held that in asking courts to evaluate schools based on how religious they are is unconstitutional.
The justices also rejected the plaintiffs’ argument that the 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.
“Today’s unanimous ruling by the Indiana Supreme Court, upholding the Choice Scholarship Program, is a victory for parents and is resounding defeat for the teacher’s unions,” said Jeanne Allen, president of Center for Education Reform. “Parents are a child’s first teacher and, as such, should drive their education. Today’s ruling paves the way for Indiana lawmakers to expand choice programs further helping out low and middle income families.”
The ruling today ends the legal challenge to the program at the state level, and while the case could be made in federal court, an appeal is not likely, as the U.S. Supreme Court has upheld a similar school voucher program in Cleveland, Ohio in 2002. The case cannot be appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court as the Supreme Court of Indiana has the final say on the interpretation of their state’s constitution.