By Lisa Knepper
As regular readers of Liberty & Law know, seldom does a new school choice program go unchallenged in court. Indeed even the proposal of a program will be met with cries that expanding educational choice to include private and religious schools is unconstitutional.
In a series of reports dating to the earliest days of IJ’s strategic research program, we have carefully documented how these constitutional claims from school choice opponents run counter to the reality that states already have similar voucher and tax credit programs. We recently released the seventh and eighth reports in that series, focusing on vouchers in Indiana and tax credits in Idaho.
Like the federal government through Pell Grants and the G.I. Bill, states have long offered post-secondary scholarships that students can take to any school they choose, public or private, religious or non-religious. Indiana is no exception, with five decades-old scholarship programs students use to attend a wide array of schools, including religious institutions such as Notre Dame, Franklin College and Manchester College.
Choice in Indiana extends to K-12, where long-standing programs offer textbook and transportation assistance on a per-student basis to children in private schools, including religious schools. Altogether, Indiana’s nine voucher-style programs provide about $279 million in aid to more than 120,000 students.
As IJ Research Analyst Angela C. Erickson shows in Opening the Schoolhouse Doors, Indiana’s new Choice Scholarship Program, the nation’s most expansive, fits perfectly within the state’s history of school choice and simply brings more schooling options within the financial reach of more families.
The report makes clear just how out of step with reality the teachers’ unions’ lawsuit challenging Indiana’s program is. As Angela put it, “A parent relying on the Choice Scholarship Program to send her child to a Catholic high school is no different than a Hoosier Scholar or a Frank O’Bannon Scholar choosing to attend Notre Dame.”
Just as IJ attorneys were filing final briefs and preparing for oral argument in defense of the program, Angela published an article co-authored with IJ Director of Strategic Research Dick Carpenter in Indiana Policy Review detailing Indiana’s long history of school choice, and she argued in op-eds in two Indiana newspapers that this shows that the new choice program is indeed consistent with the Indiana Constitution.
Meanwhile, Dick authored a new report, Expanding Choice: Tax Credits and Educational Access in Idaho, which documents more than a dozen tax credits in Idaho similar to a proposed scholarship tax credit program. In fact, one of these credits encourages donations to private and religious schools—some of the very same schools families would be free to choose through a scholarship tax credit program. The only difference between the existing and proposed credits is that instead of going directly to the schools, private donations would go to scholarship-granting organizations that would enable more families to afford those schools.
IJ and the Friedman Foundation for Educational Choice released the report as part of a joint effort in support of a scholarship tax credit bill that the Idaho legislature will consider in its upcoming session.
School choice is a common-sense policy rooted in decades of similar policy solutions. When opponents claim otherwise, we will be there to counter their myths with facts.
Lisa Knepper is an Institute director of strategic research.