July 1, 2011 / 11:36 PM / in 7 years

Indiana teachers sue to halt school voucher program

CHICAGO (Reuters) - The Indiana State Teachers Association filed suit against the state on Friday, asking a court to block implementation of the country’s largest private school voucher program.

“There is no question that this law violates the provisions of the Indiana Constitution that protect taxpayer dollars from being funneled to private, religious and for-profit organizations,” said Teresa Meredith, a teacher in the Shelbyville Central Schools and a plaintiff in the case.

The Indiana program, signed into law by Republican Governor Mitch Daniels on May 5, allows eligible low-income and middle-income families to use taxpayer dollars to send their children to private schools.

Vouchers tend to be popular with conservatives, but unpopular with teachers’ unions, who view the programs as a way of draining money from public schools.

State-wide voucher programs in Arizona, Florida and Colorado were struck down as unconstitutional by state supreme courts, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures.

Governor Daniels said in a statement that the bill was drafted with state and federal constitutional law in mind, and that the teacher’s organization will lose.

“There the union goes again, putting their financial self-interest ahead of the interests of children and Indiana’s low income families,” Daniels said.

His administration has argued that the program gives more choices to parents, and compared it to public aid for private universities.

Meredith said the law will result in larger class sizes, more teacher layoffs and fewer programs for Indiana public school students. The union says the law could cut funds to public schools by up to $65.8 million.

Eight states have some kind of school voucher program, according to Josh Cunningham, education program research analyst for the NCSL.

Of these, four only offer them to special needs students. Indiana and three other states offer them to low-income students.

What makes Indiana’s program the biggest is that it does not require students to be attending a low-performing public school in order to qualify for a voucher, Cunningham said.

Utah had a universal school voucher program signed into law, but voters repealed it in a referendum, Cunningham said.

Writing by Mary Wisniewski; Editing by Greg McCune and Jerry Norton

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