So the Indiana Supreme Court has ruled that the state’s school voucher program is constitutional. It isn’t the first time a supreme court has made a questionable call but, apart from the legal argument, the decision doesn’t mean that vouchers are a good educational or civic idea.
Indiana is one of a growing number of states with school voucher programs. These allow public dollars to be used at private schools, including religious schools, including those religious schools that use creationist materials that teach anti-scientific notions such as the idea that the universe is no more than 10,000 years old, and that humans lived at the very same time as dinosaurs.
With Tuesday’s decision by the Indiana Supreme Court, Indiana can now expand its program, in which more than 9,300 low-income students already are enrolled. Under the program, students in grades 1-8 can receive up to $4,500 annually for private school tuition, and high schoolers can get a little bit more. The court ruled that the money is going to families, who use it as they wish, rather than the schools themselves, which the justices believe is an argument that gets around the separation between church and state.
Indiana’s Supreme Court upheld a law that lets taxpayer funds pay for private schools, boosting an effort to expand what is already the broadest such voucher program in the U.S. and rebuffing critics who say it undermines public education.
The court’s five judges unanimously rejected the argument of the state’s largest teachers union and other plaintiffs that the Indiana voucher program violates the state Constitution because it uses public funds to support religious education. Most of the voucher funding goes to parochial schools. The judges, upholding an earlier trial-court decision, ruled that as long as the state maintains a public-education system, using Indiana tax dollars to help fund the private-school educations of low- and middle-income children doesn’t violate the state Constitution.
Proponents say vouchers offer parents important alternatives to public schools. Twenty-two states and Washington, D.C., have some sort of program that funds private schools, but most limit eligibility to low-income or otherwise disadvantaged families, said Robert Enlow, chief executive of the Friedman Foundation for Educational Choice, a national advocacy group for vouchers. In Indiana’s two-year-old program, families are eligible if their income is up to 150% more than the threshold to qualify for a free or reduced-price lunch, which translates to as much as $64,000 a year for a family of four.