Victory for School Choice in Indiana

J. Justin Wilson
J. Justin Wilson · January 13, 2012

Arlington, Va.—Indiana’s Choice Scholarship Program is perfectly constitutional. That, in a nutshell, was the ruling issued by Marion County Superior Court Judge Michael Keele today in Meredith v. Daniels. The trial court rejected every legal claim brought by the plaintiffs—who are supported by both state and national teachers’ unions—against the program, and it ruled in favor of both the state and two parents who have intervened in the lawsuit in defense of the program. Those parents, Heather Coffy and Monica Poindexter, are represented by the Institute for Justice.

Last August, the trial court rejected the plaintiffs’ request for a preliminary injunction against the Choice Scholarship Program until the court reached a final decision on the constitutionality of the program. Today’s ruling is a final decision that marks the end of litigation about the program at the trial court level. It also means that the almost 4,000 students who have received Choice Scholarships can continue—without disruption—to be able to attend the private schools their parents have selected.

In rejecting the argument of the plaintiffs that the Choice Scholarship Program improperly benefits private religious schools, the Court held that the program “is not in place ‘for the benefit’ of religious schools. To the contrary, the CSP bestows benefits onto scholarship recipients who may then choose to use the funding for education at a public, secular private, or religious private school.”

“Today’s ruling is a resounding win for Indiana parents and students, and it is a major defeat for school choice opponents,” said Institute for Justice Senior Attorney Bert Gall, who—alongside Indiana Solicitor General Tom Fisher—argued in favor of the constitutionality of the program before the court on December 19. “The court’s well-reasoned decision makes clear that the Choice Scholarship Program is constitutional and that the teachers’ unions’ lawsuit against it is completely meritless.”

IJ client and school choice mom Heather Coffy, whose three children have received Choice Scholarships, said, “Thanks to today’s ruling, I and thousands of other parents across the state of Indiana can continue to choose schools for our children that best suit their educational needs.”

IJ Senior Attorney Dick Komer said, “The court got it exactly right: While the Choice Scholarship Program is inconsistent with the self-serving agenda of the teachers’ unions who are supporting this lawsuit, it is perfectly consistent with the Indiana Constitution.” He added, “We expect the teachers’ unions to appeal, but we are confident that the trial court’s decision will be affirmed.”

Today’s decision is consistent not only with the Indiana Constitution, but also with Indiana’s long tradition—documented in a recent study—of providing choice-based aid to students who choose to attend private schools and colleges. A ruling against the Choice Scholarship Program would have placed in jeopardy similar scholarship programs at the higher-education level (such as the Frank O’Bannon Grant Program), as well as textbook and transportation-assistance programs for children who attend private schools.

The Institute for Justice has a long history of successfully defending school choice from legal attacks. IJ represented intervening parents in the successful defense of:

• Arizona’s Individual Scholarship Tax Credit Program, Ariz. Christian Sch. Tuition Org. v. Winn and Kotterman v. Killian;
• Ohio’s Pilot Scholarship Program, Zelman v. Simmons-Harris and Simmons-Harris v. Goff;
• Milwaukee’s Parental Choice Program, Jackson v. Benson;
• Arizona’s Corporate Scholarship Tax Credit Program, Green v. Garriott; and
• Illinois’ Educational Expenses Tax Credit Program, Toney v. Bower and Griffith v. Bower.

“Indiana’s Choice Scholarship Program is about providing true educational choice to Indiana families,” said Chip Mellor, the Institute’s president and general counsel. “As the court recognized, the Indiana Constitution does not forbid programs like the Choice Scholarship Program. That’s why the teachers’ unions’ lawsuit failed, and why it will continue to fail if they appeal.”