School Choice Myth: Vouchers are Unconstitutional

The law is settled. Choice Scholarships (Vouchers) are constitutional.

Opponents of school choice see no public good coming from private schools. They’d have you believe that there’s something downright un-American about Indiana’s Choice Scholarships program, which allows tax dollars to follow students to non-public schools—including religious schools.

But these opponents of school choice have already had their day in court, and lost. In 2013, the Indiana Supreme Court ruled unanimously that Choice Scholarships are constitutional, and that Indiana tax dollars can be used to fund students’ education at private schools.

In their 5-0 decision, the justices wrote, “We hold that the Indiana school voucher program, the Choice Scholarship program, is within the legislature’s power under Article 8, Section 1, and that the enacted program does not violate either Section 4 or Section 6 of Article 1 of the Indiana Constitution.”

This ruling ended the legal challenge by opponents of the School Choice Program. The Indiana high court’s ruling echoed a 2002 U.S. Supreme Court decision upholding a similar program in Ohio.

The Indiana Supreme Court recognized what school choice opponents would rather forget: Parents should have the power to decide where their child attend school, and where a portion of that child’s state education dollars should go—whether to a public, private, or charter school.

Opponents of school choice believe that the Choice Scholarships program gives tax money to families who would have paid for private school anyway. That’s certainly not true for families living in poverty. Indiana’s School Choice Program has opened doors of educational opportunity to all Hoosier families—opportunities once available only to the rich.  

Some say students should be forced to attend a public school first, before having the option of a School Choice Scholarship. But how much practical sense does that really make, especially for families with several children? Should younger children be denied the opportunities of their older siblings, merely because of their age or birth order? Do parents have a duty to send their children to a public school first—even a failing public school—before taking advantage of Indiana’s voter-approved and court-tested voucher program?

Indiana’s Choice Scholarship Program boasts a high rate of participation because it is less restrictive than other states’ voucher programs. It offers more parents the opportunity to choose their child’s school. Any family who meets the income guidelines can participate.

As the Indiana Supreme Court has held, the primary beneficiaries of the Choice Scholarship program are not private schools, but Hoosier families and children. That is exactly how it should be.