Updated: October 30, 2011 1:17AM
The framers of our Constitution, who established this nation as the freest society on Earth, made sure our republic would be one that protects liberty by right and rule of law.
Likewise, those who wrote the tenets of the Indiana State Constitution also ensured protected liberty as a matter of right for every Indiana citizen. However, even as we prepare to celebrate the 235th birthday of these United States of America, the issue of liberty and the connection to education is still of question.
On Friday, the Indiana State Teachers Association filed a lawsuit in Marion County court to block implementation of the new school voucher law. According to an article in the Indianapolis Star, the suit argues that school vouchers, which redirect a portion of state aid from public school districts to private schools for some low- and middle-income parents, violate the state constitution. According to the suit, the state constitution forbids the use of tax dollars to support religious institutions and requires public education funds to be spent only on a “uniform system of common schools,” that are open to all. The suit argues that private schools do not qualify as part of that system.
It is interesting that the state teachers union would sue in order to prevent educational choice for taxpaying parents. If our system of education is really about the children, then why would teachers sue to prevent low-income and some middle-income families from choosing the best means to direct their tax dollars?
Several issues come to mind regarding this lawsuit. First, let us examine the issue concerning the reason for the law. One serious question needs consideration: Are public schools delivering quality education to students? The answer to this query is not so simple. On the surface, statistics will tell us that while many suburban public school systems succeed to educate on a high level, the opposite is true for many urban school districts.
There are many reasons these troubled districts fail to produce acceptable student achievement; some important ones like parent involvement have little to do with the school administrators or teachers. However, most would agree that schools must be held to a standard of accountability regarding the task of educating our children.
Secondly, at issue in this suit is the alleged violation of the Indiana Constitution. This is an interesting argument put forth by the teachers union. In essence they say public dollars given to parents in order to choose the educational vehicle they deem proper for their own children are in fact unconstitutional and amount to supporting religious institutions with public funds.
At issue seems to be who is best qualified to determine the expenditure of tax dollars, which come from the very parents the union says would violate the state Constitution. Should we trust tax-paying parents to spend their tax dollars allotted for the education of their child the manner in which they desire? Who ever heard of such a thing? Should people be free to determine what is best for their own child?
Of course, I say this facetiously as it is clear to me that I believe myself to be better qualified than the state of Indiana to determine the best educational course for my children. In fact, so did my parents when they chose to labor hard to send me to a private high school with no help from the state. In fact, my parents paid my tuition, and also through their tax contributions paid the tuition of some unknown child.
This is the dilemma for parents dissatisfied with public education in their neighborhoods, cities or towns; the current system forces parents to give their children what they perceive to be a substandard education. Talk about violations of the Constitution!
The Indiana Constitution in Article I, Section 3 states, “No law shall, in any case whatever, control the free exercise and enjoyment of religious opinions, or interfere with the rights of conscience.” Pay attention to the last clause about laws that interfere with “rights of conscience.”
If my conscience determines that my tax money for my child’s education would be better spent elsewhere than a public school, then do not tell me I must send my children there, especially if the school is not up to my standards.
In addition, the Indiana Constitution in Article 1, Section 6 states, “No money shall be drawn from the treasury, for the benefit of any religious or theological institution.”
This is the place that is likely the basis for the union’s lawsuit. Unfortunately, this just doesn’t add up. The law suggests, and rightfully so, that public money should not go directly to the benefit of religious or theological institutions. In my humble opinion, Indiana’s new voucher law does not violate this provision in that the vouchers are given to parents to educate their children in the manner they see fit.
The real issue at stake for us is the freedom of choice. The opportunity for parents, many of them with economic challenges and in communities with schools that struggle, to choose the educational delivery they deem best for their children.
As the teachers sue to block this law, one cannot help to wonder when education became more about the system than the children. On the chalkboard of reason, this simply does not add up.
Raymond C. Dix Jr. is senior pastor of Berean Fellowship Church, Gary.