Group Sues To Block Indiana Vouchers

Teachers Union Seeks Injunction

A lawsuit was filed Friday seeking to block the implementation of a school voucher law the Indiana Legislature passed earlier this year.

The Indiana State Teachers Association claims the law violates the Indiana Constitution by circumventing provisions "ensuring that (taxpayers) are not compelled, through the taxes they pay, to support religious institutions, ministries and places of worship."

The 12 plaintiffs include teachers, administrators, taxpayers and religious leaders from all over Indiana.

ISTA claims the constitution also prohibits the state from diverting public money from public schools to private schools "that are free to exercise student admissions preferences based on religion and other factors."

The teachers' union said the law could cut public school funding by up to $65.8 million

"This voucher 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 Shelbyville teacher Teresa Meredith, one of the plaintiffs in the case, in an emailed statement from ISTA.

The union contends that the law, if implemented, will result in larger class sizes, teacher layoffs and fewer instructional programs for public school students.

"This is the largest, most comprehensive voucher bill that’s ever been enacted in the United States," said Mark Shoup, of ISTA. "It sets a precedent because of the scope and because of the large number of students able to participate and the huge drain on dollars this would mean for public schools.”

Gov. Mitch Daniels signed the voucher bill into law on May 5. It would allow families to use taxpayer money to send their children to private and religious schools. Daniels issued a statement Friday, saying he's confident the state will prevail.

"There the union goes again, putting their financial self-interest ahead of the interests of children and Indiana’s low-income families," Daniels said. "The bill was drafted from its inception with the state and federal constitutional law in mind. This suit will lose as emphatically as their recent school funding suit did."

Families have to meet certain income limits to qualify. A family of four that makes up to about $60,000 a year would be eligible.

Advocates for the voucher program have said Indiana will be a model for other states considering education reform.

"We fully expected litigation related to House Enrolled Act 1003. During the lengthy public debate in the 2011 legislative session, the opponents made it clear they would challenge the new law," read a release from Tony Bennett, Indiana superintendent of public instruction. "We are confident the courts will agree that this new law is both constitutional and in the best interests of Hoosier children."