Institute for Justice Moves to Intervene in Defense of Indiana’s New School Choice Program

John Kramer
John Kramer · July 20, 2011

Arlington, Va.—Yesterday (July 20), the Institute for Justice—the nation’s leading legal advocate for school choice—filed a motion with the Marion County Superior Court to intervene on behalf of Indiana families in defense of Indiana’s new Choice Scholarship Program. The nation’s newest school choice program is now under legal assault by a group of taxpayers represented by the National Education Association, which seeks to limit the educational choice of others. The Institute seeks to intervene in the lawsuit on behalf of Indiana families who wish to participate in the program. For the past twenty years, the Institute has litigated in state and federal courts across the country—including the U.S. Supreme Court—to protect school choice programs. Significantly, the Institute successfully defended school scholarship programs that are similar to Indiana’s in Milwaukee and Cleveland.


Institute for Justice Senior Attorney Bert Gall said, “We will vigorously defend the Choice Scholarship Program on behalf of parents who rely on it to give their children the quality education they deserve. We will prevail, not just for our clients, but for families across the state who want true educational choice.”


Gall said, “The Choice Scholarship Program is on firm constitutional footing because no money goes to private schools—whether religious or secular—but for the genuine and independent choices of parents. Furthermore, all families can still continue to use the public schools if that is what they prefer to do. This program is completely voluntary. The bottom line is that the lawsuit filed against the program is all bark and no bite.”


Indiana’s Choice Scholarship Program, signed by Governor Mitch Daniels in May, could grow into the nation’s largest school choice scholarship program. The program awards low- and middle-income parents publicly funded scholarships for their children’s education that may then be used at participating private schools, including both religious and non-religious schools. It has been estimated that 62 percent of Indiana families will eventually be eligible to participate in the program. If they don’t think that their children are receiving a good education in their current public school, the program will enable them to pick a private school that better suits their child’s educational needs.


“This case is about who should control the education of low- and middle-income children in Indiana,” said IJ Senior Attorney Dick Komer. “The legislature, the governor and the Institute for Justice believe parents should direct their children’s education, but 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 among the widest variety of educational options. That is why they filed this lawsuit.”


Komer pointed out that school choice—including choice of religious schools—already exists at the collegiate level: “Just as the Constitution allows Indiana students to use Frank O’Bannon Grants to attend private religious colleges after graduation from high school, it allows the Legislature to create the Choice Scholarship Program to enable Indiana families to choose where their kids go to high school or elementary school, even if it’s a religious school.”


IJ client and school choice mom Monica Poindexter has two school-age children both of whom attend private school. Poindexter said, “I really don’t want to have to send my children to public school because I don’t believe they will get the quality education there that I believe they deserve and need.”


Her daughter, Mia, plans to attend Cardinal Ritter High School through the choice program. Poindexter said, “I did not choose Cardinal Ritter for religious reasons; I chose it because it was the best educational fit for my daughter. It will be a tremendous financial hardship for me to keep my children enrolled in their schools if this scholarship is taken away. I don’t think it’s a burden that I can shoulder for long.”


IJ also represents single mom Heather Coffy, who has three children that she would like to have participate in the program. Two are enrolled at St. Monica Catholic School and her oldest son, who also attended St. Monica, is attending Bishop Chatard High School this year. Several years ago, Coffy had enrolled him in College Park Elementary, a public school in Pike Township, but found that he was not getting the individualized attention he needed in order to succeed. Coffy said, “Being at St. Monica has been a wonderful educational experience for my children. Class size is small, so they have received lots of one-on-one instruction from wonderful, caring teachers.”


Coffy concluded, “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.”


“Indiana’s Choice Scholarship Program is about providing true educational choice to Indiana families, said Chip Mellor, the Institute’s president and general counsel. “Those with a political ax to grind are trying to kill the program by trying to make this about religion. But they will fail because the program is about education, not religion, and thus constitutional under both the state and federal constitutions.”