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Sunday, November 25, 2012

Ind. Decisions - More on: Supreme Court hears oral argument in school voucher challenge

Dan Carpenter's opinion column today in the Indianapolis Star is headed "Questions left off voucher court test." Some quotes:

The question before the Indiana Supreme Court and a packed gallery on Wednesday morning was a technical one: Is the benefit direct or incidental?

If the state persuades the court that the Choice Scholarship plan hinges on parental decisions -- even though the money flows not to them but to the schools they've chosen, without restrictions on how it's spent -- it may beat back a challenge to one of the Daniels administration's signature policy changes.

If that happens, opponents say, disingenuous hair-splitting will have trumped the needs of public school pupils who make up the vast majority of the state's children.

Other questions went unasked by the justices but were much on the minds of many in the crowd. Most pertinent: If vouchers are being sold as a way for low-income kids to escape poor-performing public schools, why is there no performance standard either for the school they leave or the one to which they move? * * *

It was a query from Rucker that may have spoken most resoundingly, in large part because of what he left unsaid.

He asked Assistant Attorney General Thomas Fisher whether parents truly had a choice "if nothing is available but religious schools and the parents have either the underperforming public school or the high-caliber superior religious school?"

Fisher replied that there is a choice to opt out entirely. Mark GiaQuinta would say the justice begged the question.

He's the board president of Fort Wayne Community Schools, which has lost $7 million to vouchers this year. His hardest-hit school was rated A by the state, he said; and the religious school that drew the most away was rated F.

"The idea this is providing an opportunity for poor children to leave bad schools is nonsense," he declared before the hearing. "I said to Tony (Bennett), 'If this is truly providing an opportunity to leave a failing school for a successful one, why not make that a criterion? Maybe the other school just needs a quarterback.'"

The blog Advance Indiana has a post on the oral argument that concludes:
On one final note, I couldn't help but wonder whether Justice Massa should have recused himself from participating in this case. He was, after all, chief legal counsel to Gov. Mitch Daniels, whose office worked closely with Supt. Tony Bennett's office to help draft, lobby and steer the Choice Scholarship legislation through the state legislature, prior to him being appointed to the Court by Gov. Daniels. Nobody watching that oral argument could believe that he has an open mind about the legislation, and he certainly made little attempt to hide his views. It's one of the crowning achievement of his former boss. I think the parents' attorney made a mistake in not publicly calling on him to recuse himself, if for no other reason than to put him on notice that he was being watched closely.

Posted by Marcia Oddi on November 25, 2012 05:45 PM
Posted to Ind. Trial Ct. Decisions