Indiana Supreme Court Rules Tax Money Can be Used to Support Religious Schools; Voucher System Proceeds
The Indiana Supreme Court on Tuesday unanimously upheld the country's broadest school voucher program, which gives taxpayer dollars to poor and middle-class families to pay private school tuition, almost exclusively to religious schools. Although school voucher opponents, including the teachers’ union and parents, argued that the program was unconstitutional because nearly all the voucher money has gone to religious schools, the court held that that was irrelevant as long as the money makes a brief stop in the hands of parents before arriving at the religious school or madrasa of their choice.
In making its ruling, the Indiana court was following recent U.S. Supreme Court case law. In the case of Zelman v. Simmons-Harris (2002), the Court narrowly (5-4) overturned prior precedent and created a five-part test that allows public tax money to go to religious schools. Under the test written by the court’s five conservatives at the time, a voucher program is constitutional if: 1) the program has a valid secular purpose; 2) aid goes directly to parents, who then pay schools; 3) a broad class of beneficiaries is covered; 4) the program is facially neutral with respect to religion; and 5) there are adequate nonreligious options.
Although critics cite studies showing that voucher systems drain money from public schools, subsidize overtly sectarian indoctrination, and pay for explicitly false and incorrect instruction in subjects like biology, geology, history and astronomy, the Indiana court abjured any interest in the policy implications of its decision, writing that, “whether the Indiana program is wise educational or public policy is not a consideration,” in the case.
Nationwide, more than 100,000 students in a dozen states, including Florida, Louisiana, Georgia, Ohio and Wisconsin, use vouchers to help pay private school tuition, overwhelmingly at sectarian schools. Similar court cases challenging voucher programs in Colorado and Louisiana are currently pending in the supreme courts of those states.
To Learn More:
School Vouchers Can Fund Religious Education (by Jeff D. Gorman, Courthouse News Service)
Indiana Court Upholds Broadest School Voucher Program (by Stephanie Simon, Reuters)
Meredith v. Pence (Indiana Supreme Court, 2013 (pdf)
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