INDIANAPOLIS (AP) -- The Indiana Supreme Court on Tuesday upheld the law creating the nation's broadest school voucher program, clearing the way for a possible expansion.
In a 5-0 vote, the justices rejected claims that the law primarily benefited religious institutions that run private schools and accepted arguments that it gave families choice and allowed parents to determine where the money went.
The Indiana case has received national attention because the program has wide eligibility. Middle-class families are allowed to participate in Indiana, while in most states, such programs are limited to low-income families or those in failing schools. Jeff Reed, spokesman for the Friedman Foundation for Educational Choice, said 530,000 Indiana students qualify for vouchers.
The Milwaukee Parental Choice Program is the nation's largest in terms of actual enrollment. That program, enacted in 1990, had 24,027 participants this school year, Reed said. The Indiana program has 9,000 students actually enrolled.
Indiana lawmakers have been looking this year to expand their program further, introducing a bill to waive a requirement that students attend at least one year of public school before becoming eligible for a voucher. Kindergarteners, siblings of current voucher students and some others would become immediately eligible.
The Indiana State Teachers Association had filed suit over the program, saying it drained money from public schools. Its attorney, John West, told the court in November that virtually all of the voucher money goes to schools whose primary purpose is to promote the teachings of their affiliated churches.
Solicitor General Thomas Fisher, defending the law, said parents were free to send their children to any school they wished, public or private, religious or not. State attorneys also said the teachers union was asking the court to evaluate schools based on how religious they were, which was itself unconstitutional.
School voucher programs have strong support from conservative Republicans, who say they offer families more choices and will boost education by giving public schools greater incentive to improve. Critics contend the vouchers could cripple public schools by diverting desperately needed funds.
The Republican-backed bill expanding Indiana's program is awaiting action in the state Senate, where there have been concerns about its cost and whether the Legislature should start making exceptions to the 2011 compromise that then-Gov. Mitch Daniels touted as giving public schools a chance to win over students and parents.
Teachers union disappointed with voucher ruling
An Indiana teachers union official says she is disappointed that the state Supreme Court has upheld the nation's broadest school voucher program but isn't sure if the case will be appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court.
Indiana State Teachers Association Vice President Teresa Meredith says she still believes the state should be investing in public schools and making those the best they can be.
The voucher law upheld unanimously Tuesday gives low- and middle-income students public money to attend private schools. More than 9,000 students are participating this year.
The teachers union sued over the law and said it harmed public schools by diverting money intended for them to the voucher program.
The justices sided with supporters who argued the program gives families more educational choices.
Voucher sponsor calls ruling victory for children
A lead sponsor of Indiana's private school voucher law calls the state Supreme Court ruling upholding the program a victory for children.
Republican Rep. Robert Behning of Indianapolis says he was always confident that the voucher program would be found constitutional but that he was excited by the court's unanimous ruling released Tuesday.
The Republican-dominated Legislature is now considering a bill expanding the voucher program to make some low-income children immediately eligible without first attending public school.
New Democratic state schools superintendent Glenda Ritz opposes the voucher program. Ritz aide John Barnes says he was surprised by the unanimous ruling and that the agency will have to review the decision to see whether limits can be placed on the program.
Pence welcomes decision upholding voucher program
Republican Gov. Mike Pence says he welcomes the Indiana Supreme Court's decision upholding the state's private school voucher program.
Pence issued a statement following Tuesday's ruling saying that the state should continue to look for ways "to expand educational opportunities for all Indiana families."
The Legislature approved the voucher program in 2011 while Pence was still a congressman. The program gives public money to low- and middle-income families to attend the school of their choice.
More than 9,000 students are receiving vouchers this year.
Critics say the program siphons money away from struggling public schools.
The governor supports the voucher law and says he has long believed parents should
be able to choose a private school for their children regardless of their income.
Copyright 2013 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.
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