Montana Is Right; Indiana Is Wrong

Montana’s Supreme Court recently struck down that state’s version of a school voucher program, ruling that it was unconstitutional under a provision of the state’s constitution.

As Americans United for Separation of Church and State reported,

The Montana Supreme Court delivered a win for church-state separation and public education last week when it struck downthe state’s private school voucher program.

Americans United, joined by other civil-rights organizations, had urged the court through a friend-of-the-court brief to prevent the voucher scheme – called a tuition tax credit program – from funding private, religious education. Our brief explained that the program violated the “no-aid” provision in Montana’s constitution, which protects residents’ religious freedom by ensuring taxpayer money isn’t used for religious purposes – including religious education.

The Montana Supreme Court agreed with us: “We ultimately conclude the Tax Credit Program aids sectarian schools in violation of Article X, Section 6, and that it is unconstitutional in all of its applications,” wrote the court majority.

“Montana taxpayers should never be forced to fund religious education – that’s a fundamental violation of religious freedom,” said AU president and CEO Rachel Laser. “The Montana Supreme Court’s decision protects both church-state separation and public education. It’s a double win.”

The Indiana Constitution has a provision very similar to Montana’s. What we don’t have is a Supreme Court willing to uphold it.

Indiana has the nation’s largest voucher program, and according to Chalkbeat, 306 of the 313 schools across Indiana that received vouchers this year are religious. When supporters of public education and civil liberties challenged Indiana’s program, citing our state’s constitutional bar on sending tax dollars to religious institutions of any sort, the Indiana Supreme Court declined to address the reality of the program, ruling that the funds were being sent to parents, not schools, and that it was thus the parents who were “choosing” to use them at religious schools. (Among other intellectually dishonest aspects of that analysis, the court conveniently ignored the fact that 90% of Indiana’s private schools are religious, a fact that rather obviously constrains that parental “choice.”)

There are numerous reasons to oppose school vouchers, and I’ve written about several: research rebuts claims that children attending these schools perform better than similar children in public schools; the program diverts money from already under-resourced public education; there is no requirement that voucher schools teach civics or comply with civil rights laws or refrain from discriminating against LGBTQ students or teachers. (Roncalli, anyone?) There is virtually no accountability.

Accountability has been cited as one of several differences between voucher schools and charter schools. Charters are public schools, they must obey the Constitution, and they can be closed if they fail to perform adequately. (The threat of closing does make them accountable, but use of that mechanism is terribly disruptive, and causes significant angst for parents and children who must find another educational venue.)

Now it appears that Charters, too, have discovered an escape from accountability. According to the Fort Wayne Journal Gazette, Charters closed for poor performance or financial improprieties can simply reinvent themselves as–you guessed it!–voucher schools.

The article addressed announcement of the closure of Thurgood Marshall School, a Charter.

If Fort Wayne’s charter-school history is any indication, however, the school might not remain closed. When authorizer Ball State University pulled the charters for Imagine MASTer Academy and Imagine Schools on Broadway, the schools simply converted to private voucher schools. About $3.6 million in state loans made to Imagine were forgiven…

The sponsors turned to Horizon Christian Academy, which took over operation of the two schools but seems to have made no improvements. The Broadway school was absorbed into the Wells Street campus school in 2016. Enrollment grew, but not academic achievement. After consecutive state accountability grades of D’s and F’s, the state finally prohibited Horizon from enrolling new voucher students this year, but current students continue to receive taxpayer-supported tuition for the school.

At the very least, lawmakers should prohibit Charter schools closed for non-performance from continuing to rip off taxpayers by converting to Voucher status.

What lawmakers ought to do, of course, is admit what the Montana Supreme Court recognized: sending tax dollars to religious schools violates both the state and federal constitutions–whether those dollars are “laundered” through parents or not.

Indiana’s voucher program was sold as a way to give poor children a better education. In reality, it serves middle and upper-income families by requiring taxpayers to subsidize their children’s religious education. It should be phased out.


  1. “…the Indiana Supreme Court declined to address the reality of the program, ruling that the funds were being sent to parents, not schools, …”

    If this were true; parents would have the “cash (or check) in hand” and it would be in the parent’s name. The voucher amount is credited in their name to the school of their choice, the same as those here in Indiana who protested Pence’s attempted total destruction of Planned Parenthood Clinics by sending donations in the name of Gov. Mike Pence to Planned Parenthood. The difference is that the voucher system provides nothing to laugh about.

    “Indiana’s voucher program was sold as a way to give poor children a better education. In reality, it serves middle and upper-income families by requiring taxpayers to subsidize their children’s religious education. It should be phased out.”

    We haven’t yet seen the full effect of Betsy DeVos’ “God’s Kingdom” education system which will deplete our public education tax fund. I have renewed my memberships in Americans United for Separation of Church and State and the Indiana Coalition for Public Education. I also voted for the slight increase in taxes solely to increase teacher’s pay scale but the state of Indiana is mulling this over and the public education tax base is systematically being emptied as they mull.

  2. “What lawmakers ought to do” is a light years away from what has and continues to happen in the State of Indiana. Futile is any hope that the evangelicals and the Catholics will wake up to the damage they have done to this state by their efforts to undermine the concept of the separation of church and state. That damage done is not just to the ideals we strive to live by but to thousands of children indoctrinated in religious thinking that is at odds with freedom of thought.

  3. Not being a resident of Indiana, I don’t know the timing, but didn’t Pence have something to do with this situation? Didn’t Pence recommend DeVos for SecEd? These instances sound like the best reasons Pence is called “Pastor” Pence in some contributions.

    Almost all of these religious school/funding actions are taken by Christians. I thought Christians were so secure in their faith that they didn’t have to keep reminding themselves nor keep brainwashing their children as to the value and veracity of their religion. I guess I was wrong.

  4. The state of Indiana has partnered with established religious schools (Catholic and Lutheran) to provide them with funds to build sports stadiums, swimming pools and large gymnasiums simply to take students away from the public schools. All of us are being forced to support a parallel school system that has no oversight, that can discriminate at will, force a child to participate in a religion, subject a student to religious beliefs that run counter to proven scientific fact, and literally brain wash adolescents with their political ideology.

    The voucher program in Indiana is nothing more than theft of our public schools. Most people don’t understand that the state takes money from EVERY public school to pay for vouchers used mostly by students that have never attended a public school and by parents that can well afford to send their child to the private school. Most private schools that take vouchers are located in major metropolitan areas such as the Indianapolis, Fort Wayne, and Lake county areas. There are around 53 counties out of the 92 in Indiana that have schools that accept vouchers, so the people of Pike County are paying for someone who lives in the upper middle class area of North Meridian Street Indianapolis. The schools in Carroll county have to cut programs or staff to pay for the vouchers used in Terre Haute. Families in Ohio county get less funds for their financially struggling schools just so a voucher school in Evansville can build a new football stadium; and worst yet, a Parish in Fort Wayne can force every family that qualifies for a voucher to take it so they can use the money to pay for a new steeple on their church.

    All of this has happened since the voucher program started. Vouchers are nothing more than state sponsored theft. It has to stop.

  5. Is there a race element to the school thing?
    Are the Church schools pretty much WHITE?
    Are there stats on that?
    Knowing IN, I bet they are
    It smells like yet another way to keep white & black kids in separate schools

  6. The true believers have been incrementally moving more of the public realm into their private “Christian” world. Would anyone care to hazard a guess about why our currency contains the phrase, “In God we trust?” Might it have something to do with the admonition to, “Render to Caesar that which is Caesar’s and to God, that which is God’s?” Too many people believe that the US is a Christian nation. Their problem is that they don’t recognize the Beatitudes as a basic tenet of Christianity. Their focus is on the “Prosperity Gospel.” SAD!

  7. Vernon; Mitch Daniels brought about the Charter schools and was the instigator of the level of voucher system here but he left Mike Pence his playbook to carry on and ignore the Indiana Constitution. Mitch Daniels also appointed most of the Board of Directors at Purdue University who, in turn, named him president of the University. He is sort of the Emperor of Education here in Indiana. Mike Pence is more the Chief of the Sex Police regarding access to birth control, abortions and LGBTQ denial of rights…all in the name of his personal god.

    patmcc; I believe the racial issue of the voucher system is one of those hidden requirements of which we don’t speak. I’m sure statistics would prove you to be right…er, correct in your assessment.

    Theresa; isn’t your term, “indoctrinated in religious thinking”, a dog whistle for religious brainwashing? All students in religious schools are required to participate in the religious classes regardless their personal religious – or no religious – choice; they are not required to participate in the prayers.

  8. There used to be an old saying, Welcome to Indiana, Set your clocks back 30 years. Now with Voucher Schools the old saying can take a twist, Welcome to Indiana and Set your clocks back to the Bronze Age.

    I was raised a Catholic and I find it difficult to understand why any woman would stay in the church. Woman are second class citizens in the Catholic Church, they cannot be a part of the decision making hierarchy – The hierarchy is a Men’s only Club.

    I read an article about a year ago by a person who was raised as a bible thumping evangelical. He left that bronze age mythology. He wrote that evangelicals want their children to be educated and be able to function concerning reading, writing and math. However, there is a big wall erected that stops critical thinking and in general questioning authority.

    One of the pillars of evangelicals and Catholics is the demand by the hierarchy to accept authoritarian rule. The extreme danger is this demand for unquestioning belief/loyalty supersedes rational thought and is transferred into other areas like politics. Thus, it is no surprise the President Agent Orange – Pastor Pence Cult will not be moved one inch from their faith and blind belief that the supernatural has provided it’s blessings to President Agent Orange – Pastor Pence.

  9. The school voucher decision was one of the most intellectually dishonest of many disappointing recent rulings from the Indiana Supreme Court, where justices were willing to ignore both the text and historical context of the language of our 1851 Constitution in order to uphold vouchers.

  10. Every week there is a Papal Envoy, that travels to Rome with a suitcase – in that suitcase is the accounting of all funds that are collected by the Church – in our nation – and the accounting of how much of that money goes directly to Rome, which it was reported some 7 years ago was on the average of billions dollars per year. Some of that money was money for voucher programs to allow families to send their children to parochial schools. How much do people like the televangelists in this country account for? It is true you know… “Faith-based” entities – are churches. I may hold an ordination, and I sure do, but I would rather anything I proffer or intend to do for money – be taxed. I think all churches – with the exception of ANY that can prove zero political participation or funds collection that is above the pastor’s or leaders agreed upon salary or recompense, be taxed. I mean everything… the little tracts they pass out – the books they sell… the sermons on video or what have you! The land that the church sits on…tax them as you would a business! They can take standard business allowances. Because those who say they need your money to win the world for G-d – are lying through their eye-teeth! And anyone with a brain, knows that.
    P.S. a HAPPY YULE and belated SOLSTICE greeting to all! Hang in there gang – there is a light at the end of the tunnel… let’s just hope it isn’t an oncoming train! ~8)

  11. It’s simply, segregation.

    The politicos (yes even Democrats support vouchers) are assisting well to do mobile parents in segregating their white kids from the black and brown kids.

    All else is verbal gymnastics.

    Do you honestly think the GOP will acknowledge publicly they are racist? I know many white people in our small community who actually allowed their racism to supersede their economics by voting for Trump.

    You see, they resent being considered equals to people of color. All the liberalization taking place with women and people of color has caused resentments from the white people.

    Probably the most asinine adventures are listening to all these folks ignore the racist foundation of all these educational policies. Even those who insist these programs are to allow minorities to prosper by attending private or religious schools.

    Politicians are trained liars. Polished. The people on Facebook who defend these programs are NOT very good at all. Their racism oozes especially when questioned about it.

    I doubt Montana has a race problem, but Indiana sure does.

  12. We would never be at this point where we are arguing about accountability, who pays how much and who believes what if the courts did their job, quit playing politics etc. by following the logic of the Montana Supreme Court. All such plans, however disguised, are unconstitutional, and even if their respective state constitutions permit them, they are still unconstitutional under our federal constitution.
    If there are those who wish to have religious or other forms of private education, fine, but they must pay for it – not taxpayers – and even if private, such schools should be required to live up to certain minimum curricular standards in order for their graduates to function in an increasingly sophisticated age of robotics and AI. Not everyone can be a priest, rabbi or preacher.

  13. Montana is an interesting state. A few years ago, Marilyn Bartlett was responsible for the state’s employee health insurance plan. She (along with the governor) determined that hospital charges
    for state employees were so high that they were compromising the state’s ability to provide other services to the citizens of the state. She decided to limit hospital reimbursement to a little over twice what Medicare would have paid for the same service. The hospitals complained to the legislature and governor but the governor backed Marilyn’s plan. The result: eventually all of the state’s hospitals agreed to the limit and 10s of millions of dollars were saved by the state. In subsequent years, the limit was lowered.

    For commercially insured people in Indiana, hospital prices vary from near what Medicare would have paid to about 450% of Medicare with a statewide average around 350% of Medicare. Wish we had the same leadership here. Not holding my breath.

  14. Wrong, Abdul. That’s an entirely different issue and I think it would be unconstitutional for the state to deny aid to such students. We are talking K-12, not higher education.

  15. Abdul, yes, and that may well be the best thing that could happen for ALL of the citizens of the state. It would certainly be the best thing for our constitutional government if the number of religiously fanatical graduates were curtailed. If you want your son or daughter to go out into the world aiming to evangelize society to their religion then go ahead… but not on the taxpayer’s dime.

  16. “School choice
    In his 1955 article “The Role of Government in Education”Friedman proposed supplementing publicly operated schools with privately run but publicly funded schools through a system of school vouchers. Reforms similar to those proposed in the article were implemented in, for example, Chile in 1981 and Sweden in 1992. In 1996, Friedman, together with his wife, founded the Friedman Foundation for Educational Choice to advocate school choice and vouchers. In 2016, the Friedman Foundation changed its name to EdChoice to honor the Friedmans’ desire to have the educational choice movement live on without their names attached to it after their deaths.”…Wikipedia
    Note the date of the first article, a year after the Brown v. Board decision to desegregate public schools. Friedman took the idea of vouchers to southern governors as a way to keep white students from having to attend schools with black students. It was an idea quickly adopted throughout the South and beyond.
    Its current iteration is still as a tool of segregation, whether by race, religion or class. Keep in mind that even private schools with enrollments almost exclusively African American, Catholics, Lutherans or Jews or Evangelicals are still segregated. If those schools are funded by those who want to keep their children segregated, they have always been able to do that with their own finances. Public schools of all kinds, especially K-12 and private universities, should not be living off the taxpayers’ contributions. It is clearly unConstitutional, as Montana’s Supreme Court has ruled. Keep in mind that Mitch Daniels and Pence both made Indiana Supreme Court appointments, approved by a majority Republican legislature. Is it any wonder that Indiana’s public schools continue to be underfunded, losing qualified teachers every year due to low pay?

  17. Correction: “PRIVATE schools of all kinds, especially K-12 and private universities…”

    Also of note, EdChoice is Headquartered in Indianapolis.

  18. The voucher schools discriminate in admissions and in the students they decide to keep based on religion (church members’ children receive preference), test scores, wealth, handicap, ability to speak English, and parental involvement. Especially in inner city neighborhoods, voucher schools often enroll a high proportion of the racial minority students in those neighborhoods but often at a significantly lower rate than the public schools.

    If they want to accept taxpayer money, then ALL taxpayer’s should have an equal opportunity for enrollment of their students and for employment at the voucher schools. Private schools have fiercely fought legislation to require such non-discrimination even though I’m very sure that’s NOT ‘what Jesus would do’.

Comments are closed.