School voucher bills swamp statehouses, face legal challenges

August 15, 2011

Statehouses across the U.S. this year have considered more legislation than ever before to fund school voucher programs, according to a recent report by the Associated Press:

As of mid-July, at least 30 states had introduced bills that would use taxpayer dollars to send children to private schools, most limited to poor or special needs children, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures. That's compared with nine voucher bills in 2010, just one of which passed — a special needs voucher program in Oklahoma.

And 28 states this year have eyed giving tax breaks to those paying private school tuition bills, which some consider a back-door voucher program.

At least six states have passed voucher or tax credit legislation this year. Some of the programs are based on income, some based on disability, while others are available for anyone who wants to take advantage.

Some of the measures failed, and others are still under consideration as states struggle with budget deficits and GOP lawmakers tout vouchers as cheaper per child than the cost of public schooling.

To read the full article, click here.

Meanwhile, various organizations -- most notably Americans United and the American Civil Liberties Union -- have challenged the newly approved voucher plans, typically on the grounds that they are both ineffective and unconstitutional (by diverting taxpayer money to religious and other private schools). In Indiana, a judge is set to issue a final decision this week on the state's new voucher plan. In Colorado, a district court recently ruled that a measure adopted by the Douglas County School District violates the state constitution. And in a related case, several groups have filed a lawsuit in Florida to block a ballot proposal that they argue would allow state funding for religious education.

The future of these legal battles remains unclear, though the Supreme Court allowed for school voucher programs in the 2002 case Zelman v. Simmons-Harris. The Center for Inquiry will continue to track this issue and keep you informed about the latest news as it happens. 

UPDATE: the Indiana ruling was announced late Monday. Marion Superior Court Judge Michael Keele declined to halt the state's new school voucher program, writing the law "is religion-neutral and was enacted 'for the benefit' of students, not religious institutions or activities." More to come.