An ideological contortion over vouchers


Earlier this week, the Indiana Supreme Court stretched the bounds of “indirect” government services to uphold Indiana’s school voucher law. “Stretched” actually may be too modest a description. Twisting themselves into an ideological contortion may be a more accurate depiction of what the justices did.

Indiana already has one of the broadest voucher programs in the country, and the court ruling may have encouraged religious and other private schools – and their supporters in the Indiana Legislature — to dig even deeper into taxpayers’ pockets.

The Indiana justices rejected claims that the voucher law violated that state’s ban on the use of state funds for religious institutions. The court said the prohibition applied to the direct expenditure of tax dollars. But it held that the constitution didn’t prohibit religious schools from receiving indirect government services, “such as fire and police protection, municipal water and sewage service, sidewalks and streets,” and it lumped vouchers into that category.

Uh? What do fire and police protection and sidewalks have to do with enriching private school owners?

Fire and police service and sidewalks and streets benefit the entire community and should be classified as public services or expenditures. But publicly funded vouchers that end up in the bank accounts of private schools are a different animal. They are direct expenditures of tax dollars to a private, special interest. Sure, students and their families initially are awarded the vouchers, but they are only temporary guardians. That money doesn’t stay in their pockets very long.

If private school vouchers are an “indirect” public service – and they aren’t – then let legislators pick their favorite hometown industries and start doling out tax dollars for any company that may be short of cash this month. Vouchers aren’t sidewalks, folks. Any taxpayer can walk on a sidewalk, but not everyone can get vouchers.

The lawsuit was brought by the Indiana State Teachers Association, which argued that vouchers drained money from public schools. Even more money is likely to be drained now. A spokesman for a pro-voucher group said 530,000 Indiana students – many from middle class families — qualify for vouchers, but a smaller number is actually enrolled. The court ruling, however, may encourage pro-voucher legislators in Indiana to dig deeper into the public trough – and undermine public schools.

-From Education Week






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