Starting this school year, Indiana offers Hoosier families a sweeping variety of school choice options. Despite recent efforts by the state’s largest teachers’ union, those options remain in place pursuant to a ruling Monday. The Indiana Choice Scholarship Program now provides financial assistance for qualifying families to attend any primary school of their choice within the state. In some situations, that scholarship covers nearly the entire cost of tuition. This program is the latest in a long line of reforms within the state over the last decade, including the addition of charter schools and providing for payment of transfer tuition.
Hoosier families should be able decide for themselves what school best suits the educational needs of their children and whether to attend their local public school, transfer to another public school, attend a charter school, or attend a private school. For those families in financial need, the Choice Scholarship Program is available and allows the parents to direct where their money goes.
Even though such a policy allows families to make the best educational choice for their children, it draws the ire of those who seek to eradicate any potential religious exposure to school-age children. Because some families may decide that the best educational opportunity for their child is at a religious school, you guessed it, the legal challenge of Meredith v. Daniels was born with the support of the leadership of the Indiana teachers’ unions and the National Education Association.
Although the Choice Scholarship Program won the first in what is sure to be multiple rounds in this contest, what truly is alarming are the potentially devastating effects if the challengers prevail. The scholarship program is under attack because some religious schools may “benefit” if parents choose to use the scholarship money to send their children to the school. That has been rejected for now, and families can decide to send their children and their money to any school that they believe is best for their children. But, if this lawsuit is successful on appeal, families without financial means will have nearly no choice in deciding the best education for their children.
Even worse, a ruling striking down the Choice Scholarship Program could possibly have a much broader impact. Consider the thousands of college students who have earned scholarships (such as the ones offered by the Twenty-First Century Scholars Program) or who have qualified for grants (like the Frank O’Bannon Grant Program) from the State of Indiana. Would those students be prohibited from attending the college of their choice merely because the college is religious? Or consider the effect upon the tens of thousands of patients who receive state-provided medical insurance coverage. Will those patients be denied the medical care best for their health and recovery simply because they seek to be cared for at religious-affiliated hospitals?
Families who receive scholarship or other financial aid from the state should be allowed to decide what educational program is best for their children. Allowing religious schools to participate in a program on an equal basis like non-religious schools is a decision that would make the Rev. Harry Hoosier proud. That’s a history lesson everyone should learn.