The Indiana Supreme Court unanimously upheld the state’s school voucher program on Tuesday. The suit was originally filed following the passage of HEA 1003, contentious legislation narrowly approved in 2011 creating a voucher program for low-income students meeting certain criteria.
Voucher opponents claimed that the program, in providing taxpayer-funded vouchers for use at religious or private schools, violated a clause in the Indiana Constitution protecting a person from being compelled to “attend, erect, or support” any place of worship.
In a 22-page opinion, Justices wrote that the voucher program does not directly benefit religious institutions but instead assists low-income families with school children. The Court also noted that law preventing public support for religious institutions does not apply to institutions providing primary and secondary education.
Senate Democratic Leader Tim Lanane responded to Tuesday’s decision with a call for a comprehensive study of the impact of the state’s voucher program. In a statement released following the ruling, Lanane cautioned against an exponential expansion of the voucher program before first determining whether the current program was generating positive student results.
Lanane’s reaction comes as the Senate Committee on Education and Career Development considers loosening restrictions on the state’s current program. House Bill 1003 would eliminate a requirement for students eligible for vouchers to first attend public school for one year prior to enrolling at a private school among other changes.
Critics of the legislation point to the substantial unknown cost associated with an expansion to students not currently factored into the state’s school funding formula and the potential cost to Indiana’s public schools as reason to delay the legislation. The bill is schedule for a committee vote on Wednesday.