(CNN) - In a ruling that could reverberate nationwide, the Indiana Supreme Court upheld the state's voucher program, which gives poor and middle class families public funds to help pay for private school tuition, including religious schools.
Indiana has the broadest school voucher program available to a range of incomes, critics say, and could set a precedent as other states seek ways to expand such programs.
Supporters say it gives families without financial means more options on where to educate their children.
However, opponents of the Indiana program had sued to block it, describing it as unconstitutional and saying it takes money from public schools.
Teresa Meredith, the vice president of the Indiana State Teachers Association and one of the plaintiffs, said she was "very disappointed in the ruling."
As many as 9,000 students statewide are part of the voucher program and more than 80% use the funds to go to religious schools, according to Meredith.
But in its unanimous 5-0 ruling, the Supreme Court said that was not an issue.
It said it did not matter that funds had been directed to religious schools as long as the state was not directly funding the education. The tuition, the court said, was being funded by the parents who chose to pay it with their vouchers.
"Whether the Indiana program is wise educational or public policy is not a consideration," Chief Justice Brent Dickson wrote. The public funds "do not directly benefit religious schools but rather directly benefit lower-income families with school children."
By Robert Enlow, Special to CNN
Editor’s note: Robert Enlow is president and CEO of the Friedman Foundation for Educational Choice, the legacy foundation of Nobel laureate and school choice founder Milton Friedman and his wife, Rose.
If you follow the logic of America’s teachers unions – and particularly those in Louisiana – it’s better for all children to get a lousy education than for some to get the chance to escape to a better school using a voucher.
Such were the absurd arguments recently before District Judge Timothy Kelley, who erred in ruling that Louisiana’s school voucher program violated the state’s Constitution by using education dollars from the state’s funding formula. The program, which started this fall, gives 4,900 pupils a seat in private or parochial schools.
But children shouldn’t be victims of funding formulas or arguments about how many get a place on a lifeboat when the educational Titanic is sinking. About 72% of the state’s public schools are rated C, D or F, according to the Louisiana Department of Education. For those who earn a diploma and enter college, 34% of college freshmen needed remediation in 2010.
Unions may claim that they embrace education reform, but their actions show that they are more concerned about perpetual funding of the education bureaucracy that results in too many children dropping out, becoming unemployed or going on government assistance programs. When unions or school boards feel threatened by school choice, they throw children under the bus. And in Louisiana last week, 4,900 children certainly were the victims of adults putting their interests before children.