Indiana Supreme Court upholds state’s school voucher program

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INDIANAPOLIS – The Indiana Supreme Court has upheld Indiana’s school voucher program, paving the way for a possible expansion.

In a unanimous decision Tuesday morning, the court rejected claims that the Choice Scholarship Program violated provisions of the Indiana Constitution regarding education and religion.

“Finding that the challengers have not satisfied the high burden required to invalidate a statute on constitutional grounds, we affirm the trial court’s judgment upholding the constitutionality of the statutory voucher program,” the court wrote in its 22-page opinion.

The court said the state constitution doesn’t intend to deprive religious institutions from receiving indirect government services like fire and police protection, water and sewage and sidewalks and streets. The court argued that the constitution only prohibits expenditures that directly benefit religious institutions, concluding that school vouchers benefit eligible families and not the schools families choose to attend.

“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,” the court wrote. “The prohibition against government expenditures to benefit religious or theological institutions does not apply to institutions and programs providing primary and secondary education.”

The court also said that its ruling simply decided the legal matters surrounding the legality of school vouchers and was not a comment on their public policy merits.

“Whether the Indiana program is wise educational or public policy is not a consideration germane to the narrow issues of constitutional law that are before us,” the court wrote.

The case was originally brought in 2011 against Gov. Mitch Daniels, Superintendent of Public Instruction Tony Bennett and others by a group of plaintiffs that included Glenda Ritz. Subsequently, Ritz was elected to replace Bennett and Mike Pence was elected to replace Daniels. Ritz and Pence were then substituted as defendants and Ritz removed as a plaintiff.

Ritz said she was disappointed with the ruling but vowed to perform her duties faithfully.

“While I have great respect for the court, I am disappointed in today’s decision.  As State Superintendent, I will follow the court’s ruling and faithfully administer Indiana’s voucher program,” she said in a statement. “However, I personally believe that public dollars should go to public schools, and I encourage Hoosiers to send that message to their representatives in the Statehouse.”

The Indiana State Teachers Association also expressed disappointment with the court’s decision.

“The vast majority of the 9,000 Indiana students receiving taxpayer-supported vouchers attend religious schools. As a public educator, I still believe that funneling public money into religious institutions is a clear violation of the Indiana Constitution,” said Teresa Meredith, ISTA vice president and a plaintiff in the case.

The ISTA contends that the Choice Scholarship Program takes money away from public schools to benefit private institutions.

“Just because the Indiana Supreme Court says that this program is constitutional, doesn’t make them a good idea. Vouchers are not good policy or good reform. ISTA will continue to side with the vast majority of Hoosier parents who want good public schools in their communities,” Meredith said.

Senior Attorney Bert Gall of the Institute for Justice called the ruling a victory for parents and a defeat for teachers’ unions.

“Today’s decision is a major and decisive win for Indiana parents and students. In unanimously upholding the Choice Scholarship Program, the Indiana Supreme Court has made it clear that school choice is perfectly consistent with the state constitution,” said Gall, who argued alongside Indiana Solicitor General Tom Fisher for the constitutionality of the program before the Indiana Supreme Court during a November hearing.

“The teachers’ unions tried to prevent parents from using Choice Scholarships to secure a quality education for their children, but the unions failed,” Gall continued.

Gov. Mike Pence issued the following statement regarding the court’s decision upholding school vouchers:

“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.”

The ruling cannot be appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court because the Indiana Supreme Court has the final say on interpretation of the state constitution.


  • martinstucky

    Excellent. Maybe voters will wake up and realize what a mistake it was voting in Ritz. She has no experience and ran on the Scary ticket which was backed by the Union and tried to scare everybody into thinking vouchers were not only evil but illegal. So much for that! Now the public schools will have to start holding teachers accountable one way or another.
    "Ain't nobody got time for Ritz!"

  • Charles

    Wonder what corporation pockets will be filled with taxpayer monies as more for profit charter schools are created?

    • Dano

      Wonder what corporation pockets will be filled with taxpayer monies as more for profit charter schools are created?

      Michelle Rhee's corporation, surely. And the Catholic corporation too.



      • bfz

        I rather have my taxpayer money go to a charter school that provides quality education than keep giving more and more of my money to public schools that provide poor educations. I'm not saying all public schools are providing poor education but the only way that some of these school corporations think they can improve education it to throw more money at it instead of holding people accountable. I'm talking holding everyone accountable teachers, principals, parents and students.

      • martinstucky

        Throwing money at teachers has not worked. The question is now how do you get this money back from the teacher's union? Factors like 7 hour days (or less as most contracts have free time built into the 7 hours a day), working 180 days a year, etc need to be considered when determining teacher's pay.

      • martinstucky

        Parents have to live with their mistakes, teachers don't. Teachers are also paid to do a job and we should expect they perform adequately if they are to receive the high union wages. Failing teachers should be fired on the spot, no extended processes, union reviews etc…. In the real world if you do a crappy job you are fired. Why should teachers be different?

      • Charles

        Unlike the "real world" – students who refuse to work and do a crappy job cannot be fired. Schools must keep "unproductive workers" – unlike the real world where those students would be "fired" – to use your analogy of real world workers, jobs, bosses, and ineffective workers.
        Can you clarify how parents live with the "mistakes"?

      • martinstucky

        Simply put Charles, the same way your parents did.
        To use the analogy, all cars being built in your GM plant are a Cadillac, some are Chevrolet and a few are Chevy Vegas. If the workers are not assembling them properly they should still be fired for poor performance regardless of what they have to manufacturer.
        Two separate issues here and you are trying to infuse them together. Poor students can be corrected by good, effective and attentive teachers. Good students can be damaged by a poor teacher. We have to teach them all, but we certainly do not need to pay union wages to part time (seven hours a day) workers who do not perform to a minimum standard. Also students who do a poor job and are not interested in school tend to drop out on their own while inept teachers are paid great sums of money and benefits to put in their time at school screwing off (or screwing students).

      • charles

        Unlike the "real world" – students who refuse to work and do a crappy job cannot be fired. Schools must keep "unproductive workers" – unlike the real world where those students would be "fired" – to use your analogy of real world workers

        Don't see an answer for parent accountability in your reply. Not two separate issues – according to your own analogy (again) poor performance still equates to firing from the job – students cannot be fired irregardless of their poor performance – no matter the behavior, absenteeism, – as a matter of fact, those particular students (workers) are given even more resources to succeed – after school tutoring (- many schools have volunteer teachers who remain after school hours to help students with school work), individualized education plans to promote educational growth, as well as, behavior counseling for personal growth, and programs to provide education for success after graduation. Thank goodness – giving up is not an option. There is no seniority in teaching in Indiana – any teacher can be let go for poor performance and/or poor evaluation.

      • martinstucky

        There are two separate issues, but you don't want to understand or admit there are. We are required by law to teach all students to a point. This must be done according to the law. Accept this and get over it. Bad teachers on the other hand we do not need to keep on payroll, but with the union involvement and restrictive contracts require multiple levels of crap the schools must go through to get rid of a bad teacher. You know this because you have a contract.
        I guess you were not capable of understanding the analogy so I will explain it in more detail with pictures if you like. The students are the cars, Cadillacs, Chevys and Vegas, in other words a wide range of quality and investment. But we need all of them as we are required to teach all students by law. The students are not the workers in the analogy.
        There is seniority in pay for teachers and the process to fire a poor teacher can take up to two years with many ways of them starting the clock over on the process. You have never pulled your teacher contract and looked at it as most teachers and certainly most citizens have not done or there would be widespread outrage.
        The teachers that stay after school and volunteer time are not the ones we are not likely the ones we are suggesting need to be fired, but you know that. Teachers give up every day…….

      • charles

        Obviously you feel that all students are not cadillacs – I am sad for you – thanks for you clarification on your take of the analogy. Teachers look at all students as having the ability to be a cadillac – able to grow and learn – not stuck as one model.
        Yes, I have looked at my contract – you have not looked at one lately, though. Teacher contracts are limited to the number of days per year, they can be let go for any reason – program changes, your school cosed – as of lasy July, there is no obligation for schools to follow seniority when cutting teachers. Where you get the idea of a lengthy process (two years! good grief this is Indiana – not Chicago )? Any teacher can be let go in Indiana if they are no longer needed. Unfortunately, many good citizens of Indiana are under the same misconception. Also, pay is based on teacher education, extra duties, addition of education, and yes on experience – as with many professions. If a teacher is ineffective (poor), then dismissal is not lengthy –you need only ask a teacher about this.

      • martinstucky

        Charles, you are on crack.
        I do believe some students are Cadillacs, and some are not, but we must educate them all to the best of their abilities. "on my take of the analogy"? It is my analogy moron, I determine how it should be taken, not you. I am sorry if you are confused by a simple analogy. This may explain the problem with teachers. You have a contract, seniority and you can't understand a third grade level analogy (but you expect this of the students).
        By the way, how is it you have time to send multiple posts when it is a school day, during school hours. I have read contracts of many teachers in the State and have found what you say to not be true. Post the location you work and I would be glad to post a copy of the teacher contract for your school system. The State has been chipping away at the teacher union power, and rightfully so. I understand you have an issue with this and therefore have no serious concern for what is best for the students. You clearly feel you should remove a large number of kids from the school who are not held accountable. Quit blaming the parents for your failures as a teacher. How pathetic.
        I have an idea for your next job. Practice saying "Would you like fries with that?"

      • charles

        Obviously you feel that all students are not cadillacs – I am sad for you – thanks for you clarification on your take of the analogy. Teachers look at all students as having the ability to be a cadillac – able to grow and learn – not stuck as one model.

        Not sure the contracts you are referring to – they must be old copies, as they do not reflect today's realities. When topical debates dissolve to nothing more than an example of your most recent post of name calling and mean spiritedness, then it is time to wish you good day. Hopefully, you will visit the Indiana Department of Education website and educate yourself on the current laws of evaluation and accountability for public schools – you will find that they are held more accountable than private and charter schools – and yes, they must educate all "cadillacs" – they cannot pick and choose as many private and charter schools can – and do, in order to educate only the "chosen ones" – resulting in a truly "private" education – even with vouchers, private schools can choose whether or not to educate the low income student wishing to enroll. And that is the way it is – if the student is not what the school desires, then he/she is denied acceptance – sounds a bit discriminating – but, sadly, that is the way it goes. I wish you the best and thanks for your opinions – to be truly educated, we must always listen to those we don't necessarily agree with – lest we remain ignorant.

      • martinstucky

        Well, not a surprise you are leaving the debate. I call it like I see it. You can thank the Republicans for the accountability measures in place and be assured Ritz will do everything she can to remove any accountability. Private and religious schools do a much better job on average, but you are not correct in your assumption they only accept the cream of the crop. That is not true, but you show a lack of experience in this matter. If you don't like teaching Vegas get out of the education field. I suspect you could not get a job working twice the annual hours for any near the pay you make as a teacher, regardless of your abilities and commitment level (and this is not meant as an insult to you, but a comment as to the fact public teachers are overpaid for what they do and the hours they work each year).
        Don't worry about me, I am truly educated. Worry about the students you are supposed to be teaching while you are posting on Fox.

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