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The week ahead

State unfurls a new ribbon of I-69

A major portion of one of the biggest economic development and transportation projects in the state’s history opens today. Interstate 69 will begin carrying traffic between I-64 in Evansville and U.S. 231 southwest of Bloomington.

The 67-mile stretch is largely over never-before-paved land, bringing great potential for economic development to some of the state’s poorer areas but also earning much criticism from environmentalists. Most of the $620 million cost was paid from proceeds of the Indiana Toll Road lease.

State officials are hopeful that the next segment of the I-69 extension – a 27-mile stretch from U.S. 231 to Indiana 37 just south of Bloomington – will be completed within two years. The final 48-mile link between Bloomington and Indianapolis is more problematic, though highway officials hope that construction on that section, mostly an upgrade of the existing Indiana 37, can begin next year. Long-term plans call for extending I-69 to Texas, linking Canada and Mexico.

Voucher suit

The nation’s most expansive school voucher program goes before the Indiana Supreme Court on Wednesday. The court will hear oral arguments in Meredith v. Daniels, the constitutional challenge to Indiana’s Choice Scholarship Program, approved by the General Assembly and signed by Gov. Mitch Daniels in 2011.

The session will be the first for newly appointed Justice Loretta Rush. Plaintiffs include Glenda Ritz, the newly elected superintendent of public instruction.

The suit is a direct transfer from the trial court. Marion Superior Court Judge Michael D. Keele denied the plaintiffs’ motion for preliminary injunction in January. He ruled that the scholarship program was not in place “for the benefit” of religious schools. “To the contrary,” Keele wrote. “The (Choice Scholarship Program) bestows benefits onto scholarship recipients who may then choose to use the funding for education at a public, secular private or religious private school.”

The Indiana Department of Education so far has approved 281 choice schools. They overwhelmingly are religious schools – Catholic, Christian and the Islamic School of Indianapolis. Fort Wayne has 26 approved choice schools.

The U.S. Supreme Court has already ruled that school vouchers are permitted under the Constitution. At issue is language in the Indiana Constitution, which has different wording in its freedom of religion clause and also requires the state to establish and finance public schools.

Museum meeting

The board of the African/African American Museum is expected to meet today, and members will very likely discuss the museum’s challenging finances.

A disagreement between several board members, including board chair Pompia Durril, and the museum’s founder and executive director, Hana Stith, over fund- raising and the museum’s future has recently come to light.

Several board members declined to comment and referred questions to the board chairman. Durril has not returned several calls seeking more information.

Board members understandably may want to avoid publicizing an internal disagreement. But the museum is a treasured community asset, and the board is doing the public a disservice by not keeping residents informed about problems. Being secretive about the situation serves only to discourage local organizations or individuals who might be interested in helping.

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