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IN Supreme Court upholds school voucher program

Indiana students participating in the state’s voucher program can continue to attend private schools using taxpayer dollars after the state Supreme Court Tuesday deemed the system constitutional.

Opponents of school vouchers had hoped to sway the state’s high court with arguments that the two-year-old program hurts public schools.  Nearly all of the Indiana private schools that accept vouchers have a religious affiliation.

Indiana State Teachers Association Vice President Teresa Meredith and others challenging the voucher law say the state shouldn’t be in the business of funding religious schools.

“I know we live in a very conservative state, but still, I thought the Supreme Court would potentially rule in support of the many, many children who attend public schools every day.”

Meredith says money to pay for the voucher program comes off the top of what the state allocates for public schools. But the Indiana Supreme Court says it's the parents who choose which school their children will go to, not the state.

Friedman Foundation for Education Choice President Robert Enlow says Tuesday’s decision settles the question of school voucher constitutionality in Indiana.

“Hope this will start to have our policymakers and our public start to think about how we redefine education to stop talking about school type and start focusing on how we fund kids and how we get quality.”

House Education Committee Chair Bob Behning (R-Indianapolis) authored the original voucher law two years ago.  He calls Tuesday’s ruling a validation of the work the legislature has done creating and implementing the program.  But he says the ruling will not, in his words, “open up the floodgates” of the state’s voucher system.

“We’ll still have the deliberative process and have a number of issues to discuss and this will no longer be on the table as an issue that people can pose as an argument against it.”

Representative Kreg Battles (D-Vincennes) says the Supreme Court’s decision shifts the debate over vouchers from trying to halt them entirely to controlling their expansion.

“Make sure there’s absolute transparency in the flow of money and how that money is used.  And I think there also has to be accountability, rigorous accountability, that we hold those private schools to exactly the same standards and the same rigor of accountability that we would hold charters and public schools to.”

The House passed a voucher expansion bill earlier this session that would do away with the requirement that students spend at least one year in public school before receiving a voucher.  The bill is up for a vote in the Senate Education Committee Wednesday.

Brandon Smith is excited to be working for public radio in Indiana. He has previously worked in public radio as a reporter and anchor in mid-Missouri for KBIA Radio out of Columbia. Prior to that, he worked for WSPY Radio in Plano, Illinois as a show host, reporter, producer and anchor. His first job in radio was in another state capitol, in Jefferson City, Missouri, as a reporter for three radio stations around Missouri. Brandon graduated from the University of Missouri-Columbia with a Bachelor of Journalism in 2010, with minors in political science and history. He was born and raised in Chicago.
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