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Our view: Justices weigh path of vouchers

THE FIRST AMENDMENT

Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.

Updated: December 30, 2012 3:41PM



The Indiana Supreme Court justices left plenty to the imagination about how they might rule in a case that controls the future of Indiana’s new school voucher plan.

Anyone hoping for a hint about the court’s lean based on the line of questioning on Nov. 21 must have left disappointed. The five-member panel put both sides through the wringer.

What it boiled down to was whether the vouchers, offered on income-based qualifications, amounted to direct or indirect state aid from state coffers.

The state has argued the indirect route, contending that the voucher program was designed to put school choice money into the hands of parents. Where parents took that tuition money was up to them.

The state, therefore, had no direct control over which schools — parochial, charter or a public school outside the home district —
received those students and that money.

The plaintiffs argued again that funneling state money to religious-based schools was prohibited by the Indiana Constitution.

“The problem for me is ‘the benefit of,’ ” Chief Justice Brent Dickson said at one point. The state constitution doesn’t allow state money to be spent for the benefit of religious institutions.

Justices wanted to know: Were vouchers on the same plane as state scholarship money that students spent at the University of Notre Dame? What if virtually all of the school vouchers eventually wound up going to religious-backed schools? Wouldn’t that be a de facto funding of parochial schools? And what mechanisms were in place for the state to trace the amount of money that went toward religious training versus straight academics?

A lot hinges on a decision. The arguments came a day after the Indiana Department of Education announced that participation in the voucher program more than doubled, from 3,919 in its first year to 9,324 in its second year.

How the court interprets direct and indirect state funding will have wide implications for Indiana’s schools and beyond.

(Lafayette) Journal & Courier



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