Decades of Hoosier School Choice Threatened by Unions
For decades, Indiana’s school-choice programs have helped send Hoosier students to the colleges of their choice and provided school books and bus transportation for children in private schools. Never before have programs like these been challenged on constitutional grounds. Until now.
In an attempt to maintain their monopoly on K-12 educational funds, the Indiana State Teachers’ Association and National Education Association are supporting a lawsuit against Indiana’s new Choice Scholarship Program. They claim that providing parents with funds to choose the right school — including religious schools — for their children violates a portion of Indiana’s Constitution called the Blaine Amendment, which prohibits Indiana from using state funds to benefit religious institutions. But this new program functions like 14 other school choice programs in Indiana that help K-12 and post-secondary students attend public, private nonreligious and private religious schools — directly benefiting students, not the schools they choose to attend.
The new Choice Scholarship Program provides public funds to children from low- and middle-income families — like single mother Heather Coffy and her three children — to attend the public or private school of their parents’ choice.
Heather was frustrated with the quality of education that her oldest son received at public school. With the assistance of the privately funded, decades-old Educational CHOICE Charitable Trust, she moved him to a Catholic school, where he flourished. But the Trust only provides scholarships to students in K-8. The Choice Scholarship Program made it possible for Heather’s son to continue his rigorous studies in a Catholic high school, as well as for thousands of other students to receive the quality education they deserve.
An article for the upcoming issue of The Indiana Policy Review explains how the unions’ suit to protect public schools from competition threatens not just the Choice Scholarship Program, but other programs that provide aid to students who attend private schools — including religious schools.
Indiana created its first school choice program, the Hoosier Scholars Award, in 1966. The program awards scholarships to students attending eligible public or private colleges. In the 1970s, Indiana enacted programs that supply textbooks and bus transportation to private-school students in grades K-12. Today Indiana offers 10 voucher-style programs and five tax-credit programs that allow students to attend private religious and private nonreligious schools.
The voucher-style programs in Indiana — excluding the new Choice Scholarship Program — help more than 100,000 students every year, with total state expenditures reaching $278 million. This includes $50 million specifically going to almost 12,000 students who attend private religious colleges and universities like Notre Dame.
Additionally, some Indiana tax-credit programs allow individuals and corporations to give to the K-12 and post-secondary schools of their choice and to scholarship funds that provide school choice to parents and students. These programs account for $11.5 million in tax credits a year — a small fraction of the almost $200 million in total tax credits used by Indiana taxpayers each year.
The unions’ argument that the Choice Scholarship Program is unconstitutional because parents can choose religious schools for their children ignores the many similar programs that have long been part of Indiana’s educational landscape. During all that time, no one has raised a constitutional objection.
But now that a similar program threatens the unions’ monopoly over K-12 educational funds, the teachers’ unions have suddenly discovered what they — wrongly — argue is a violation of Indiana’s Blaine Amendment. If their argument succeeds, it will not only end the Choice Scholarship Program, but it will also threaten the existence of other programs that currently help more than 100,000 students. The unions’ willingness to put the educational futures of all these children at risk demonstrates their commitment to kill competition and thereby preserve their power at the expense of Hoosier families.
Angela C. Erickson, a research analyst for the Institute for Justice, holds a Master’s in Public Policy from the University of Chicago. Her article, written for The Indiana Policy Review, is based on a larger work that will be posted Nov. 30 as a white paper at www.inpolicy.org.