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Teachers, religious groups file lawsuit against Indiana school voucher program

Indiana passed the most expansive school voucher program of any state in the country in May, but a group led by a teachers union asked a judge today to put an injunction [PDF] on the new program, the Choice Scholarship Program (CSP), citing certain layoffs and higher cost burdens on the state.

The suit alleges the new law violates state laws on public spending and religious groups. Ministries and their affiliate academies traditionally benefit most from state codes that award public dollars to students seeking to attend private schools.

Fourteen named plaintiffs are taking part in the suit, including two representatives of religious groups. Typically a key source of funding and support for private school voucher legislation, their appearance is likely to surprise many in the school voucher community..

The plaintiffs’ brief indicates nearly all of the institutions benefiting from the Choice Scholarship Program would be religious groups, estimated at roughly 90 percent. Of the 353 private schools that are accredited and could participate in the voucher program, 185 are Catholic. With the exception of three Muslim and Jewish academies, the remaining religious institutions are of a Christian denomination.

Republican Governor Mitch Daniels and Dr. Tony Bennett, Indiana Superintendent of Public Instruction, are the named defendants. All the listed plaintiffs are residents and taxpayers of Indiana. Many out-of-state groups, like D.C.-based American Federation For Children, spent money advocating for CSP’s passage.

Mark Shoup, spokesperson for the Indiana State Teachers Association, one of the plaintiffs, said to The American Independent in a brief interview, “The Indiana constitution is a very progressive document. It protects public dollars from going to religious schools.”

He also said the new law would drain $65 million from public school state coffers, a significant amount on top of the $600 million in education budget cuts supported by Gov. Daniels that were passed in the last two years.

By its third year, 60 percent of Indiana students will be eligible to participate in CSP. That estimate is based on the income restrictions established by the law, stipulating only students of families earning below $62,000 can participate.

Other complaints include the provision state education officials cannot regulate the curriculum, staffing or teaching requirements of schools accepting CSP students.

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