The Indiana Supreme Court agreed last week to take up the lawsuit over Indiana’s voucher law, which provides public funding for students who attend private schools.
That should be welcome news for everyone, whether we support or oppose vouchers. At last the state’s highest court will decide what the state constitution means when it says that “no money shall be drawn from the treasury, for the benefit of any religious or theological institution.”
The voucher law, arguably the most radical in the country, provides state funding for low- and middle-income parents who transfer their kids from public to private schools. Families are eligible if they make up to 277 percent of the federal poverty level — that’s about $75,000 for a family of five, for example. Taxpayers are spending $16.2 million this year on vouchers.
The lawsuit, Meredith v. Daniels, was organized and supported by the Indiana State Teachers Association. But the plaintiffs include parents, teachers, school officials and clergy members, and the effort is supported by groups ranging from the Indiana School Boards Association to Americans United for Separation of Church and State.
Marion Superior Court Judge Michael D. Keele ruled last August that the voucher program doesn’t violate the constitution. He reasoned, in part, that it’s OK for state money to be given to religious institutions as long as parents, not the state, decide which institutions get the money.
Of the 250 private schools that are receiving vouchers this year, all but a half dozen or so are religious schools. Most are Catholic schools. Many are evangelical Christian schools, some of which teach a mix of fundamentalism, far-right politics and anti-government extremism. At least one is a Muslim school.
Of all the controversial reforms adopted in the 2011 Indiana legislative session, the voucher bill was the most bitterly partisan. It’s an interesting coincidence that the Indiana Supreme Court will consider this case as the U.S. Supreme Court takes up the partisan dispute over President Obama’s health-care law.