(AP) — Teachers, administrators and clergy sued Friday to block the
nation's broadest private school voucher plan on the day it took effect,
arguing that the new Indiana law violates state constitutional provisions
on education and protecting taxpayers from supporting religious
group experienced in defending voucher plans across the country quickly
said it would back the new law in court and seek to intervene on behalf of
parents who could benefit. Gov. Mitch Daniels, Superintendent of Public
Instruction Tony Bennett and other state officials issued statements
supporting the law, which for now allows a limited number of low- and
middle-income families to use public money toward private school tuition.
The program eventually will be open to nearly two-thirds of the state's
filed in Marion County seeks a preliminary injunction on grounds that most
of the 352 private schools whose students are eligible for the vouchers
are affiliated with churches or other religious institutions. It also said
the Indiana Constitution directs the General Assembly to educate children
through a "general and uniform system of Common Schools."
program will provide public funds to private schools that can give
individual preference to students based on test scores, disabilities,
wealth and personal faith. Such preferences should not be publicly
funded," said lead plaintiff Teresa Meredith, a Shelbyville public school
teacher and vice president of the Indiana State Teachers Association, the
state's largest teachers union.
The new law
could cut funding to public schools by up to $65.8 million, according to
implementation of this law will most certainly result in larger class
sizes, more teacher layoffs and fewer instructional programs for Hoosier
public school students," Meredith said.
At least two
of the other 11 plaintiffs also are affiliated with teachers unions. They
include a public school superintendent and former state school board
member, a public school principal, and Methodist and Baptist ministers.
defendants are Daniels and Bennett, who both strongly supported the
voucher law as part of sweeping school changes approved by the
Republican-dominated General Assembly this year. Daniels signed the plan
into law May 5.
union goes again, putting their financial self-interest ahead of the
interests of children and Indiana's low-income families," Daniels said in
a statement. "The bill was drafted from its inception with the state and
federal constitutional law in mind."
for Justice, an Arlington, Va.-based school-choice advocacy group, said it
would seek to intervene in the case on behalf of a group of Indiana
families who wish to receive vouchers. Vouchers are government-issued
certificates that can be applied to private-school tuition, essentially
allowing parents to redirect some of the tax dollars that would normally
go to public schools.
parents that are very interested in taking advantage of the program," Bert
Gall, an Institute attorney, said in a telephone interview Friday. "They
believe educational opportunity is important not only for their children
but for children throughout the state of Indiana."
voucher plan "shares basically the same characteristics" as plans in
Milwaukee and Cleveland that the Institute has successfully defended in
court, Gall said. He said plaintiffs in the complaint filed Friday were
mistaken in arguing that the state would be giving aid directly to private
schools affiliated with a religion.
state giving aid to students and parents, and it's the parents deciding
how they want to use that aid," Gall said.
Speaker Brian Bosma, R-Indianapolis and co-author of the voucher
legislation, said such programs have proved successful in other states and
"in order to compete in the 21st century, we must offer every Hoosier
family the educational opportunities that best meet their needs."
receiving vouchers make up less than 1 percent of school enrollment
nationwide, but vouchers have been one of the top priorities among
program will be limited to 7,500 students this coming school year and
15,000 next year, but then there will be no limit on the number of
children who could enroll as long as their parents fall within income
limits. Families of four currently earning up to about $60,000 a year
could receive them.
value of the vouchers would be based on a sliding scale and would be less
than the amount of tax money a public school would have received for that
student. The maximum value for students in first through eighth grade
would be $4,500.
12 plaintiffs are from Indianapolis, Evansville, Lafayette and
Shelbyville, and include Edward Eiler, a Lafayette school superintendent
and former member of the Indiana State Board of Education, and retired
Methodist minister Richard Hamilton, the father of federal appeals judge