School Choice Case Argued before Indiana Supreme Court

John Kramer
John Kramer · November 19, 2012

Arlington, Va.—The future of what may become the nation’s largest school choice program will be argued on Wednesday, November 21, 2012, at 9 a.m., as the Indiana Supreme Court hears arguments on the constitutionality of that state’s choice plan. Indiana school choice parents, like Heather Coffy and Monica Poindexter, hope the High Court will uphold the Choice Scholarship Program, which gives them the means to place their children in schools that best meet their children’s academic needs.

The Choice Scholarship Program provides publicly funded scholarships that low- and middle-income parents can use to send their children to a private or public school of the parents’ choice. Approximately 9,000 students across the state now use the choice program to find the school that is right for them. The teachers’ unions in Indiana filed suit claiming the program is aimed at benefitting religious institutions, but in January 2012, the trial court ruled the program seeks to benefit parents and students. In fact, no funds reach a school without parents making an independent decision to send their children to that school, and parents have several options from which to choose including keeping their children in their current public school, sending them to another public school, sending them to a private non-religious school, or sending them to a private religious school.

Represented by the Institute for Justice, Coffy and Poindexter intervened in the unions’ lawsuit in order to defeat it and protect the Choice Scholarship Program. Coffy, a single mother of three, said, “All that I want is the opportunity to choose the school that will give my children the quality education they deserve. The Choice Scholarship Program creates that opportunity for me and other parents all over Indiana, and that is why I am fighting to save it.”

Institute for Justice Senior Attorney Bert Gall, who—alongside Indiana Solicitor General Tom Fisher—will argue the case in defense of school choice in front of the Indiana Supreme Court, said, “The Choice Scholarship Program isn’t just great educational policy—it’s also fully consistent with the federal and Indiana constitutions, which allow states to provide parents with scholarships that empower them to pick the school that bests fits their children’s educational needs. The unions’ argument to the contrary is grasping at legal straws.”

IJ Senior Attorney Dick Komer said, “This case is about who should control the education of low- and middle-income children in Indiana. The teachers’ unions believe they should have the power to limit other people’s choices—that low- and middle-income parents should not have the freedom to select from among the widest variety of educational options. We disagree, which is why we are fighting to save the Choice Scholarship Program.”

As documented in a study released last year by the Institute for Justice, titled, “Opening the Schoolhouse Doors: Indiana’s Choice Scholarship Program Extends Long History of Choice-Based Aid,” Indiana does indeed have a long tradition of providing choice-based aid to students who choose to attend private schools and colleges. A ruling against the Choice Scholarship Program would place 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. “The unions’ attempt to take that choice away must, and will, fail.”