January 20, 2012

Indiana school voucher law upheld by county judge

Criterion staff report

A Marion County Superior Court judge has ruled that the Indiana school voucher program is constitutional—a ruling that means the nearly 4,000 students who benefit from the state’s school choice program can continue to attend non-public schools with state funds.

In his ruling on Jan. 13, Judge Michael Keele upheld the new program that went into effect for the 2011-12 school year. The judge stated that the voucher system is designed to benefit students and their families—not private, religious schools— because the money is given directly to the students’ families.

“This Court therefore concludes that the degree of religiosity of the participating schools is immaterial to the case at hand,” Keele noted. He added that the Choice Scholarship Program “bestows benefits onto scholarship recipients who may then choose to use the funding for education at a public, secular private or religious school.”

Keele made his ruling in response to a lawsuit that was filed in July by opponents of the program. Opponents, which included teachers and school officials of public schools, argued that the voucher program was unconstitutional because it improperly benefited private, religious schools.

Opponents of the voucher program said they plan to appeal Judge Keele’s decision. Advocates of the program applauded his ruling.

“This is a huge victory,” noted John Elcesser, executive director of the Indiana Non-Public Education Association, in a Jan. 13 statement. “It means that the nearly 4,000 low-and-middle-income children in Indiana who are participating in the program can continue to attend a high quality, non-public school using public funds.”

The judge’s ruling was also praised by Indiana Attorney General Greg Zoeller, whose office represented the state in the case.

In a news release on Jan. 13, Zoeller said the voucher program “followed the Indiana Constitution in creating broader educational options for Hoosier children since the scholarship funding is directed to students’ families, not to private schools.” †

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