MARK KIESLING: Thank God, or someone, for school voucher system

2012-11-21T00:00:00Z 2012-12-20T21:25:34Z MARK KIESLING: Thank God, or someone, for school voucher system nwitimes.com
November 21, 2012 12:00 am

Indiana Supreme Court justices will hear arguments this morning on whether the state's school voucher system is the turkey its detractors claim it is.

The high court will listen to both sides in a case challenging the constitutionality of the state's voucher system for private schools, enacted in 2011.

Significantly, among the dozen plaintiffs mounting the challenge was Glenda Ritz, elected only weeks ago as Indiana's new superintendent of public instruction.

Ritz, who announced Tuesday she would withdraw her name as a plaintiff in that lawsuit, defeated Republican Tony Bennett, a proponent of the voucher system.

At the heart of the arguments is whether the vouchers violate establishment of church-operated schools with state tax money.

Marion Superior Court Judge Michael Keele already addressed that concern, saying the intent of the law was to prevent forced tithing by individuals.

He said the use of state tax money does not apply because voucher cash is used by parents who are free to choose any school in the state.

Are we doing what's right for the kids, or are we letting our own or someone else's religious (or nonreligious) view dictate where the money may be spent?

Public education is a relatively new concept in this country. Harvard, Yale, Duke, and of course Notre Dame, were all founded on religious principles.

Doesn't the high school program sound a bit to you like the College Bound program in Hammond, where money from the casino industry is used to fund higher educational choice?

Yes, gambling is a private industry, but it is so entangled with Hammond it might as well move into City Hall. It's built roads, sewers, alleys, installed streetlights.

And there are no caveats on where the money ($10,100 per student per year) may be spent except within the friendly confines of the Hoosier state.

It may go to state-supported schools, independent schools or church-affiliated schools.

College Bound was designed to help keep high school students in Hammond and was based on a similar successful program in Kalamazoo, Mich., by Hammond Mayor Tom McDermott Jr.

"It's a godsend," said Pat Youngs in a 2009 issue of Indiana Economic Digest, regarding the program that now sends more than 500 Hammond students to college.

A godsend, eh? Maybe the voucher proponents will want to steer clear of this description this morning.

The opinions are solely those of the writer. He can be reached at mark.kiesling@nwi.com or (219) 933-4170.

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