Kudos to Indiana Families, Reformers for Early Choice Scholarship Success

Was it really less than three weeks ago I wondered aloud about the pending school choice rulings here in Colorado and in Indiana? While a Denver District Court judge put a (temporary) halt to the Douglas County Choice Scholarship Program, a few days later Hoosier families celebrated a better result. Today Associated Press writer Tom Coyne highlights the Indiana program’s early popularity (H/T Adam Emerson):

Under a law signed in May by Gov. Mitch Daniels, more than 3,200 Indiana students are receiving vouchers to attend private schools. That number is expected to climb significantly in the next two years as awareness of the program increases and limits on the number of applicants are lifted….

Until Indiana started its program, most voucher systems were limited to poor students, those in failing schools or those with special needs. But Indiana’s is significantly larger, offering money to students from middle-class homes and solid school districts. [emphasis added]

The Douglas County and Indiana programs are similar in several ways, including the name (“Choice Scholarships”) and the expanded student eligibility beyond those in poverty or living with special needs.

On the other hand, there are also a number of interesting differences. For one thing, opponents of Indiana’s Choice Scholarships thus far have lost the argument based on the fact that “All but six of the 242 non-public schools so far approved for the voucher program have religious affiliations.” Meanwhile, in the Douglas County program, more than 20 percent of the eligible schools are independent rather than religious.

A similar point of interest was raised by the defense attorneys at the Denver District Court hearing. Though 93 percent of the initial batch of Douglas County Choice Scholarships went to families who opted for a religious school, it was still less than the 96 percent who chose a religious school in Ohio’s program when it was upheld by the U.S. Supreme Court in the 2002 Zelman decision. Not that it should matter much legally speaking, since in all three cases the programs are religiously neutral and the publicly-funded tuition support follows the student based on a family’s private and independent choice.

While many of us are frustrated with the larger-than-expected speed bump that has slowed down the growth of educational choice here in Colorado, I am proud to rejoice with my Indiana friends at their success so far, and send them and the Choice Scholarship families nothing but best wishes for plenty of success in the future.