The legal arguments raised against Indiana's school voucher program have been an unnecessary, unpersuasive distraction from addressing the very real problems that face many schools in our state.
Now that the Indiana Supreme Court has ruled that the state voucher law does in fact meet constitutional standards, let's hope that the old, often heated, arguments of the past finally will be set aside. And instead, future discussions will focus on what matters most - ensuring that as many students as possible in Indiana have access to high-quality traditional public, charter and private schools.
The court, in an emphatic 5-0 decision, affirmed that the General Assembly had the legal authority to establish a voucher program, which enables students from low-income and lower middle-income families to attend private schools. The fact that the majority of those families have chosen schools with a religious orientation is irrelevant from a constitutional standing. That's because the choice lies with the individual; neither government nor any one else is dictating attendance at a particular school or observance of a particular faith.
Why are so many families using vouchers to choose a private school option, often at additional personal expense and inconvenience? The answers - from better academic opportunities, to a stronger sense of community, to greater personal safety - are as varied as the individuals involved. The important thing - and the key element that makes the voucher program good public policy - is that families who need the help most have been empowered to make choices that best serve their children's needs.
Does the court ruling mean that the General Assembly should now push forward hard and fast with expanding the voucher program? A bit of caution is advisable there. Indiana already has the fastest-growing voucher program in the nation's history. In two years, the state went from zero vouchers to more than 9,300. As with any new system that grows that rapidly, there's a need to carefully review if safeguards are working adequately and if the intentions of the program are truly met.
The legal arguments over vouchers in Indiana have been settled. But the need to dispassionately monitor the results of this still new option will continue. The legislature needs to take a measured, modest approach to any expansion of the program.