Updated December 20. 2011
Superior Court Judge Michael Keele heard arguments today in a lawsuit designed to repeal Indiana’s controversial school choice law. The plaintiffs are led by the Indiana State Teachers Association (ISTA), a chapter of the National Education Association. Meanwhile, the law’s defenders are confident that Indiana’s voucher plan, the largest in the nation, should pass constitutional muster.
Judge Keele is expected to render his decision within 30 days. If the court does affirm the constitutionality of vouchers, the plaintiffs have vowed to appeal. “We’re taking this all the way,” ISTA spokesman Mark Shoup told ChoiceMedia.TV.
The lawsuit argues that Indiana’s school choice law violates the state’s constitution on two main grounds: that it fails to provide students with a “common education” and that vouchers inappropriately support private, sectarian institutions with state tax dollars.
Robert Enlow, President of the Friedman Foundation for Educational Choice, counters that Indiana’s constitution allows for wide latitude regarding the means of delivering a common education. He further notes that Indiana’s voucher law contains numerous standards to which recipient schools must adhere.
In response to church-state questions, Enlow told ChoiceMedia.TV that “Indiana’s constitution supports aid to students and that’s what this program does. Vouchers fund students, not schools.”
In August, school choice advocates won a small victory when Judge Keele denied the plaintiffs’ request for a court order barring the state from issuing vouchers until a final decision is rendered. A total of 3,919 Indiana students have since utilized vouchers to attend non-district schools in the 2011-2012 academic year. “It shows the high demand that exists for educational choice in the state,” according to Enlow. He added that even more families are expected to request vouchers in 2012-2013 – that is, unless a judge disallows them.
In a recent on-camera interview with ChoiceMedia.TV, Indiana’s Superintendent of Public Instruction Tony Bennett said that while the legal challenges to the voucher plan were not a surprise, he did not expect them to prevail. “The fact is nowhere in Indiana is there an entitlement to money for school districts or schools,” he said. “In my opinion, the entitlement comes to children.”
He added, “So the arguments that the union has laid out have really been pretty baseless, because their arguments have been ‘let’s protect schools, and school districts and adults,’ and I think the judge was pretty strong [in the preliminary ruling] that Indiana has a constitutional framework that says let’s protect children.”