School choice supporters scored a massive win Tuesday: The Indiana Supreme Court put an end to teachers unions’ objections and upheld the state’s voucher program.
The program, which gives parents more options in choosing their kids’ schools, was challenged by the Indiana State Teachers Association shortly after its approval by lawmakers in 2011. At issue was whether school choice violates the U.S. Constitution by permitting public tax dollars to be spent at religious schools. The court’s unanimous opinion held that the vouchers are indeed constitutional.
“It’s the end of the constitutional debate,” said Robert Enlow, president and chief executive of the Friedman Foundation for Educational Choice, in a statement to USA Today. “Anyone who says it is not legal in state of Indiana no longer has a leg to stand on.”
Though the decision could be appealed to federal court, a reversal is unlikely, an expert said.
“The decision effectively ends constitution-based attacks against the case because the U.S. Supreme Court already passed a similar decision in 2002 so there’s nowhere else to ‘sue up’ to,” wrote Joy Pullman, Managing Editor of School Reform News and an Indiana parent, in an e-mail to The Daily Caller News Foundation. “Unanimous decisions are rare on school voucher cases as with all other controversial topics, so this really shows how sound the legal basis for the voucher program is.”
The decision is quite a relief to parents with kids enrolled in the voucher program, said Pullman.
“I’ve spoken with several who believed the program is vital to helping their kids thrive academically and socially, and would be at a loss if they had to disrupt their child’s ‘great fit’ education by switching schools again,” she wrote.
Kids in four-person households that earn under $42,000 a year are eligible for a voucher that covers 90 percent of their tuition. In its current form, the program requires students to attend public schools for at least one year before switching to private schools.
But a bill recently approved by the state House of Representative and now under debate in the Senate would eliminate that requirement. Another change will happen automatically: The 15,000-person cap on the program will expire next year.
Participating private schools are required, however, to administer state tests — a qualification to which Pullman objects.
“I’d recommend letting schools express their individuality while maintaining accountability by choosing any nationally norm-referenced test to administer each year,” she wrote. “Otherwise, testing will push all schools to have similar instruction, which defeats the point of a voucher program: allowing diversity of choices.”
Indiana education officials have halted implementation of Common Core, a set of national education standards that cover everything from testing to curriculum. The standards have recently met with criticism.
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