FORT WAYNE, Ind. (AP) - Indiana’s rapidly expanding voucher program, which
funnels millions of taxpayer dollars into private schools, now funds some
Christian schools that teach creationism or intelligent design.
Laws and court rulings limit what the state’s public and charter schools can
teach in science classes based on separation of church and state challenges.
But the curricula of private schools that enroll voucher students haven’t
reached the courtroom.
The rapid growth of the program opens the door to an unanswered question:
Can local private schools continue to teach intelligent design and
creationism with state-funded voucher money flowing into the schools?
Experts tell The Journal Gazette the issue will have to be addressed in
Data released by the Department of Education show a second year of growth
for the state’s voucher program, which allows families to redirect tax
dollars from public schools to private schools.
Students attending private schools received $81 million of state-funded
vouchers for the 2013-14 school year, but it’s unknown how much goes to
schools that teach creationism or similar doctrine.
Five Fort Wayne area Christian schools that confirmed students are taught
creationism or intelligent design, or included curriculum information on
their websites stating that they do not teach evolution, received a combined
$3.9 million in state-funded vouchers.
The Choice Scholarship Program - more commonly called the voucher program -
has grown from 3,911 students statewide in 2011-12, the first year of the
program, to 19,809 students for the 2013-14 school year, according to
Indiana Department of Education data.
Supporters of the program say the vouchers provide students an opportunity
to attend the school of their choice, rather than being restricted to the
neighborhood public school.
Opponents of the program argue vouchers unfairly direct money away from
public schools and into primarily religious institutions.
“If we allow private schools to receive taxpayer money and still use these
religious texts, are we then also changing the rules of the game?” Indiana
University professor Suzanne Eckes asked.
Department of Education officials did not respond to calls or emails asking
for a comment about vouchers and private schools teaching creationism.
Evolution is taught in public schools as “an explanation of the history of
life on Earth and the similarities among organisms that exist today,”
according to curriculum listed on the Indiana Department of Education’s
Learning Connection website.
Several Indiana private schools are listed on CreationistVouchers.com, a
website opposing the teaching of creationism in schools that receive
Some schools continue to use creationism and intelligent design textbooks
for reading, history and science courses, according to curriculum and school
missions posted on school websites.
Curriculum for Central Christian School, a Fort Wayne private school that
received more than $328,000 in state-funded vouchers during the 2013-14
school year, includes several faith-based texts used by students in
kindergarten through eighth grade, according to the school’s website.
Julie Smith, school administrator at Central Christian, said her staff works
hard to look at all aspects of a child’s growth.
A Beka, a publisher of Christian curriculum, and Purposeful Design,
Christian textbooks for math and science classes, have been part of
students’ education and continue to be, she said.
Smith said she has not heard any backlash from parents of voucher students
regarding the faith-based curriculum but said parents know what to expect
when sending their children to Central Christian School.
A second Fort Wayne school, Blackhawk Christian School, received more than
$874,000 in vouchers this year for students enrolled at the elementary and
junior-senior high school.
Mark Harmon, secondary principal at Blackhawk Christian, said the school
teaches concepts of evolution but not as the only truth.
Horizon Christian Academy leaders said students are taught both evolution
and creationism, but the school supports creationism.
Eckes, who teaches educational law and policy at Indiana University, said
there are many implications of the voucher program that have yet to be
challenged - including the curriculum of private schools. “We can’t teach
(creationism) in a science class at a public school or a charter school, but
now we’re giving money to voucher schools who are doing that? Is that how we
envisioned vouchers to work?” she asked.
State legislation concerning creationism in a public school has already been
addressed twice by the U.S. Supreme Court, Eckes said.
In Epperson v. Arkansas in 1968, the court invalidated a prohibition on
evolution instruction because it violated the Establishment Clause of the
First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution.
Similarly, in Edwards v. Aguillard in 1987, the court struck down
legislation in Louisiana requiring that creationism and evolution receive
equal attention in a public school.
In 2005, a federal district court ruled in Kitzmiller v. Dover that
intelligent design is not scientific and teaching it in public schools is
The judge concluded that introducing intelligent design was a route for
religious opponents of evolution to get their beliefs introduced into Dover,
Pa., schools and to have evolution removed, according to court documents.
Yet private schools, vouchers and issues of church and state remain so far
untouched, experts said.
In March 2013, the Indiana Supreme Court ruled the state could expand the
voucher program because the money is going to families who can use the
vouchers as they wish, rather than directly to the schools. The state then
removed the cap on the number of slots available for the program.
, making it easier for low-income families to apply for - and receive -
As the program continued to expand, so too did the number of schools
accepting voucher students.
During 2011-12, the first year of the program, 241 schools statewide
participated. That number increased to 289 for the 2012-13 school year and
313 for the 2013-14 school year.
Barry Lynn, executive director of Americans United for Separation of Church
and State, said most people don’t disapprove of vouchers on principle.
“But when you look at what’s being taught . and what vouchers are supporting
through monies that would otherwise be going to public schools, it starts to
bother people who were neutral about the issue,” he said.
Lynn said one example is private schools that continue to teach creationism,
despite having dozens, if not hundreds, of students enrolled with
“If this were a public school or a charter school that was teaching
creationism, I cannot imagine a court would allow it to continue,” he said.
But bringing a case against private schools that continue to teach
creationism and intelligent design could be difficult, some experts say.
Charlie Russo, a University of Dayton law professor who has studied voucher
programs, said perhaps the greatest challenge could be getting the issue
into a courtroom. Russo said although it takes only one person to file a
lawsuit, the courts can be selective about who that person must be.
“It becomes an issue of standing, a question that courts go back and forth
on. Do I have standing as a taxpayer to challenge it?” Russo said. “That’s
not a slam-dunk question. It depends on how it’s framed to the court.”
A parent of a student in one of the schools would have a good chance of
winning a court case, he said.
“I don’t see this practice surviving a serious challenge,” Russo said. “To
apply these relatively clear principles - can you use public money to
essentially pay for what is religious indoctrination - and the answer is
pretty clearly no.”
However, parents willing to speak against the school where they have chosen
to send their child would be unusual, he added.
“It’s a slippery slope, so now the question is, when and where does it
start?” Russo said.