By guest blogger Alyssa Morones
The Indiana Supreme Court on Tuesday unanimously upheld the state law that created Indiana's school voucher program, the Associated Press reported.
The Indiana state government enacted its Choice Scholarship program during the 2011 legislative session. It is the only voucher program in the country that is not limited to low-income students or students who attend low-performing schools. It also has no enrollment cap. This year, more than 9,000 students participated in the program.
Based on income and the number of household members, Indiana students are eligible for vouchers that would cover either 90 percent or 50 percent of private school tuition costs, with the cap at $4,500 annually.
The legal battle began soon after the program's enactment. In its suit in the Marion Superior Court, the Indiana State Teachers Association said that the program drained money from public schools and argued that vouchers redirect those funds to schools whose primary purpose is to promote religious teachings. Marion Superior Court Judge Michael Keele upheld the legislation in 2011 and rejected claims of constitutional violation.
In its 5-0 opinion Tuesday, the state supreme court affirmed that ruling. It said that the law did not violate the Indiana constitution's guarantee of religious freedom, nor did it violate a ban on using state funds for religious institutions. Rather, the primary benefits of the program went to parents by giving them a choice in their children's education, the court said. While the state may not directly spend money on religious institutions, these institutions are not prohibited from receiving indirect government services, according to the court.
The ruling also clears the way for expanding the voucher program. Earlier this year, Indiana lawmakers introduced a bill that would waive the requirement that all students attend at least one year of public school before voucher eligibility. Kindergartners and voucher students' siblings would also be immediately eligible.