EDITORIAL: Courts should repel school voucher suit

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The lawsuit filed this month to block the state’s new school voucher law should be turned back on a lobby that has fought education reform at every turn and rarely offered solutions to underperforming schools other than demanding more money and time. Parents, employers and the larger public are weary of decades of excuses. The statute appears to pass constitutional muster; now it’s time to give reform a chance to work.

The suit, backed by the Indiana State Teachers Association and a smattering of other educators and clergy, claims the statute will funnel public funding to religious schools and institutions—not directly, but as the likely result that the vast majority of parents taking advantage of the program will choose parochial institutions.

Vouchers also will allow private schools to selectively admit students in violation of constitutional assurances that public education funding be equally open to all, the suit claims.

The challenge will likely be appealed to the state Supreme Court, and the Virginia-based organization defending the statute, the Institute for Justice, believes it can prevail based on having won similar cases in Cleveland and Milwaukee. Key is the statute’s letting parents decide how the money is spent, not the government.

No reform is perfect, and the raft of education legislation spilling out of the General Assembly this year will be no different. Laws that also move teachers to merit pay and open the door to more charter schools will need to be tweaked in coming years as flaws become apparent.

As former Lt. Gov. John Mutz points out in a forthcoming column in IBJ, the reforms will have plenty of time to bake into place. Republicans, who took the General Assembly in a landslide last year and are positioned through redistricting to control the Statehouse for the rest of the decade, will have to be open to making changes.

The education lobby lost big in the Legislature because the public had grown weary of its entitlement mentality. The individual, company or not-for-profit that has more resources to work with these days is the exception, not the rule. Everyone is expected to do better work and do it more efficiently, often against overwhelming odds.

Teachers in the trenches know a little about trying to do more with less, but willingness to innovate on a broad scale has been lacking. Reform was inevitable.

So far, the new laws address only the educators. It’s not clear reform will work to the desired degree without addressing the role some parents play in low test scores. But at this stage the reform Indiana is embarking on is our best hope.

The education lobby long ago forfeited its credibility at the negotiating table by digging in its heels, and now it’s filing a last-ditch lawsuit to further obstruct well-meaning efforts to better educate our children.

Nearly 400 families have signed up for state tuition assistance at private schools, and more than 100 schools have decided to accept the subsidies, albeit with restrictions.

If the courts clear the way, the children will benefit. And that’s what really matters.•


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