The Continuing Attack on Public Education

And Indiana’s legislative session continues…..

In the Fort Wayne Journel-Gazette, Vic Smith has accused the Indiana legislature of a frontal assault on public education.

Two bills have been filed that would create the biggest expansion of private school vouchers Indiana has ever seen. They would advance the privatization of our educational system in line with the plans of voucher-inventor Milton Friedman, who supported the abolishment of public education.

I didn’t think that the Republican supermajority would make a direct attack on public education in an election year, but it appears the Republican leadership is poised to push forward a radical new private school voucher plan. It would be the biggest voucher expansion since Gov. Mike Pence’s voucher plan costing taxpayers $40 million in new dollars and diverting $120 million from public schools was enacted in 2013.

Smith asserts that these measures are part of a longer and more ambitious effort to replace public schools with a “marketplace” of private schools funded by government, but without government oversight. He points out that although 94% of Indiana’s children still attend public schools, those public schools are being systematically starved of resources that are being redirected to private schools.

Smith sees this assault as intentional, but let’s give voucher proponents the benefit of the doubt. Let’s say they genuinely believe that privatized schools will offer better educational results. (Put aside, for the moment, important questions about what we believe constitutes a good education, and how we measure that.)

To date, research has provided no evidence that vouchers improve anything other than parental satisfaction and the bottom lines of struggling parochial schools.

A recent study of Louisiana voucher schools by the Brookings Institution found student achievement actually declined, and fairly substantially.

When comparing school performance, researchers struggle to distinguish differences in schools’ effectiveness from variation in the types of students who choose those schools.

A voucher lottery provides an unusual opportunity to measure the effectiveness of private schools. The lottery serves as a randomized trial, which is the gold standard of research methods. Random selection means that lottery winners and losers are identical, on average, when they apply for the voucher. Any differences that emerge after the lottery can therefore be attributed to the private-school attendance of the winners.

The results were startling. The researchers, a team of economists from Berkeley, Duke, and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, found that the scores of the lottery winners dropped precipitously in their first year of attending private school, compared to the performance of the lottery losers. The effects were very large: roughly a quarter of a standard deviation in math, social studies, and science. There were no effects on reading scores.

In previous posts, I have argued that the tragedy in Flint, Michigan, can be attributed in large part to people who did not understand the government they were elected to manage, and who substituted ideology for competence. The voucher movement displays the same hubris.

In both cases, children are the victims.


  1. How can public schools possibly provide “better educational results” when OUR public education tax dollars are constantly being drained from public schools and used to send voucher students to primarily religious based schools which are tax free? Another reason to end religious organization’s tax free status. This legislature keeps adding 2 plus 2 and reaching a total of 5 and above.

    I have been a member of Indiana Coalition for Public Education (ICPE) since 2011; my initial interest came after reading a Star article about Vic Smith who had taught at my “alma mater”, Riverside School #44. Indiana is again proving their goal is quantity vs. quality regarding education and again religion is at the heart of the matter. Our public education tax dollars are being increasingly misappropriated annually; the victims are the majority of students in this state attending underfunded public schools resulting in underpaid teachers and undereducated students. It will not stop till we rid the Indiana legislature of Republican cronyism and bigotry.

  2. What makes anyone on this blog think for one minute that even if every republican voter in this state read and understood the implications of this post that they would vote differently this fall? Indiana is being governed by the most ignorant, closed minded people of this era. And they are supported by a false majority due to gerrymandering. Until that ends nothing will change.

  3. patmcc and Theresa Bowers; maybe if we push membership in the Indiana Coalition for Public Education (ICPE), it will strengthen their lobby and be heard by more voters. Won’t hurt to try; it is certainly a worthy cause. Hopefully John Gregg will back this issue in his campaign?

  4. Vouchers were sold as a means by which failing, impoverished students trapped in failing public schools could escape them. But when legislators were asked to limit vouchers to failing students, or students in failing schools, or impoverished students, they refused all three.

    Then the income levels of parents were increased so that families of 4 making more than $80,000 annually could qualify. And students no longer had to attend a public school first before qualifying for a voucher. The expansions continue with the result that most any legislator’s children can qualify for vouchers and choice scholarships.

    Parochial schools are chafing at the minimal accountability of being measured by I-STEP scores. They have sought legislation to exempt themselves from I-STEP but haven’t been successful thus far. They also seek special ed. dollars but fiercely oppose open enrollment qualifiers so that they can continue to reject any special ed. student they don’t wish to enroll. They can also continue to receive voucher tax dollars and give enrollment preference to students of their own faith and congregation, students with higher test scores, and students whose parents are available to contribute both time and money to the school. The Fort Wayne Journal Gazette asked local Catholic schools if vouchers meant the schools would be enrolling the students served by Catholic Charities in Fort Wayne. The parochial school spokesperson said probably not.

    Of additional concern is that vouchers constitute taxation without representation. Taxpayers receive no notice of and have no legal right to attend private school board meetings. Voters have no role in electing private school board members. Taxpayers have no legal right to contribute input on or to examine the budgets and financial expenditures of private schools. So it’s little wonder that a Fort Wayne priest felt comfortable telling church school parents that vouchers had enabled the church to withdraw financial support from its own parochial school and instead use the funds for church repairs. This is not at all what vouchers were supposed to do.

    Taxpayers have been misled from the beginning about the purpose of vouchers. Private schools will point to their high levels of minority students enrolled in urban private schools – schools which were on the verge of closing due to declining inner city congregants and students. Public school buildings with declining enrollments have been starved out of existence. Not so with inner city private schools which have received funds and students the schools choose to enroll.

    Time and again, private schools have received preferential treatment, and their dollars come off the top of appropriations, with public schools scrambling for the funds which are left. Starving public schools of funds enables private school advocates to accuse the public schools of malnutrition, the remedy for which seems to be to starve the public schools further to enrich private, selective schools.

    Now voucher proponents want to expand vouchers to serve drop out students, except the new funds are not limited or directed to drop out students. How many more times must we learn this lesson?

  5. JoAnn, the only thing to count on from Gregg is that hopefully he will rid us of Pence. But the direction this state is in will not change. Certainly not on education.

  6. JoAnn: I think expecting different priorities and policies from Gregg and Republican-Lite (Democrat) candidates is way too hopeful. Apparently we’re in the voter’s sweet spot for public policy in Indiana and nobody can expect to get elected by rocking the boat. IN is in the death spiral.

  7. There are at least two tickets the Legislators can get punched with this legislation , by the Bible Thumpers and the Education for Profit Industry.

    The Democrats will probably as usual here in Indiana avoid sticking their heads up. They may vote against it, but that will be all. The Democrats in the State of Indiana lack any fire. Gregg is a great example.

  8. “a “marketplace” of private schools funded by government, but without government oversight.”

    Why would the Kochs and ALEC want to buy this?

    One, it allows schools to spread ignorance rather than knowledge.

    Two, it promotes segregation. As they have been successful in keeping blacks poor and contained in ghettos the opportunity has been created to return to separate and unequal the golden years of segregation.

    Third it creates the opportunity to move more money from public pockets to private investment accounts by new businesses free of government oversight.

    Fourth it opens a new avenue to keep teachers salaries down. Teachers are not business people they are only creators of our future so they just don’t deserve success in life like oil barrons do. After all inherited money is the hallmark of aristocracy.

    This is the vision of conservatism. A third world banana republic aristocracy in place of we the people.

    This is the promise of trump and Cruz and Rubio.

  9. When we moved from Connecticut to Indiana i enrolled my children in publc school for a year. But large class sizes 26-28 grade school kids per teacher 6-8 add or adhd kids in a class with no aidsjust one overwhelmed teacher quickly convinced us that we couldn’t afford the public school system. In Connecticut grade school classes were capped at twenty students and special needs students got assistance when they needed it. Often an aid stayed the whole day with the class and assisted everyone.

  10. I agree with much of what has already been said about public tax dollars going to parochial schools in the form of vouchers, and detest the very concept of the vouchers taking money from public education. That said, however, I feel I should point out that not all non-public schools accept vouchers. There are some independent private schools around Indianapolis and in Fort Wayne that do not accept vouchers, although they do offer their own scholarships based on financial need. I suspect that some of them do not wish to be caught up in the politics of the voucher system, and perhaps some of them do not wish to have the state dictate their curriculum and how they must teach it.

  11. Indiana still has large number of students in rural areas. School vouchers and choice mean nothing when your county has one or two schools. Those rural schools are the biggest losers in this privatization battle. Indiana has abandoned those in rural counties by squeezing the funding and limiting resources.

  12. First of all, I did not know that Milton Friedman supported the abolishment of public education.

    We have him to blame for the downhill spiral of our economy. He started the revolution that corporations exist only to benefit their stockholders and damned be the thought of caring about the communities and cities that they are in or their employees. He created the idea for the extreme corporate greed of the past 40 years.

    I vocally opposed vouchers to my district legislators when they were being tossed around as an idea. The public school districts in my area have been suffering financially for several years from Mitch Daniels’ tax caps and more recently from voucher losses. The vouchers have benefited the two local religious schools.

    It appears that the Republicans won’t be happy until they create a society that requires taxpayers to support education only for the elite members of society while ending education for the lesser members. Maybe they would really like to revert back to the days when poor children had to work to help put food on the table and didn’t have time to worry about going to school.

    You can bet my legislators will be hearing from me about a proposed expansion of vouchers.

  13. Fortunately Hoosiers are stupid and uneducated, so they will continue to elect people who promote stupidity and ignorance, which will insure that the dumb Hoosiers’ children will be at least as dumb. Democracy works!

  14. Theresa Bowers’ quote:

    ” Indiana is being governed by the most ignorant, closed minded people of this era.”

    Theresa – Try “anal retentive”.

    The only fix possible (except armed rebellion): vote straight ticket in November.

  15. I demand the right to educate my children at state expense in the independent flat-earth/young-earth, we hate gays and Muslims school. It should be free from any oversight except by the Lord (as determined by me) and Betsy DeVos (the Amway based money behind the voucher effort).

    Oh, wait. I don’t have any children. Never mind.

  16. OMG – voting straight ticket doesn’t work if you live in a area that only has Republicans on the ballot. Having no choice at all is the reason so many people don’t vote.

  17. Pretty funny how no one quite gets the voucher system.
    First off, Is it fair that the public school gets funding for my child anyway, even though I choose to send my child to private school. The school funding is based on the number of children (among other things). Why should the public school get funding for kids that do not even attend that school system.
    Second, I chose to send my children to private school because I am sick and tired of the government waste in the education system. The gov. is more concerned with building the bigger and better facilities rather than spend the money on quality or quantity of teachers. It is frustrating to see how many dead beat teachers there are in the system, just because they have some sense of tenure. The public education system is one of the few professions where they want less experienced teachers so they don’t have to pay them as much.

    I am not a voucher recipient and send my kids to private school because I am tired of the bureaucratic nonsense in the government. Show me one government program that the government runs efficiently and effectively.

  18. When these ‘entrepreneurs’ walk away from their hastily cobbled-together schools 15 years from now, they’ll be rich. And they will blame someone else for the lousy job they did. And the media will go along with it.

    Can’t decide whether I’m Tiresias or Cassandra, but either way it’s wearying.

  19. “Show me one government program that the government runs efficiently and effectively.”

    The same thing of course can be said about every organization public or private. Not one is as effective or efficient as is possible because they all employ people who are inherently flawed.

    So this is not a way to determine when and where capitalism vs socialism. They only way to do that is by evaluating the ability to have a market of fully informed buyers and sellers who therefor have a refined informed accurate sense of value with no other implications other than cheap. Like commodity markets for instance. Every product unit alike and therefore price is the only decision criteria. Competition allows capitalism in commodities.

    Under those conditions only can “make more money regardless of the cost to others” function affordably for all.

    Nick apparently believes that the students of wealthy parents are the only ones entitled to education, so a country of educated wealthy kids and uneducated others will somehow compete with countries where everyone is educated up to their capability.

    Or maybe his advice to his kids is get educated on my money then move to another country that educates all upon graduation where you can enjoy business success. Or maybe he has so much money that they will never have to earn a living.

    Regardless of his plan, America is either preparing the next generation for global success or not. Those who value the success of the country invest in that future. Those who’s vision is limited to only family don’t care about our success, only theirs.

  20. So you say, “Nick apparently believes that the students of wealthy parents are the only ones entitled to education.”
    Get off you liberal soapbox and stay on topic. You pass judgement like you know me. This is what the voucher program is for, to give others the opportunity to look outside their school if it isn’t up to par, as MANY schools are not and continue to get worse. The united states education system is going down the toilet, very sad and I wish it were not the case.

    I am by no means wealthy. My wife and I make sacrifices to send our children to a school system where they aren’t just a number that needs to get passed through the system and pass standardized tests to get additional funding.

    You state, “Nick apparently believes that the students of wealthy parents are the only ones entitled to education.” Again, when did i ever say anything remotely like that? Vouchers even the playing field allowing families to make choices.

    And again, the public school systems gets money for my kids that don’t even attend the school system. Why should they get a dime if my kids don’t attend that school system.

    I am not going to apologize for doing everything in my power and make sacrifices for my kids to get a good education and grow up to be outstanding/productive members of society and not end up being a self-righteous person like you.

  21. Nick, every parent that I know wants what’s best for their children. Liberals and conservatives want the same thing, liberals for everyone.

    People who believe in America as I do though know that educating your kids is not enough. To have a future that’s as good as what our parents gave us everybody needs to be educated up to their capability, a prodigious task.

    Liberals are willing to invest in that exceptional country vision.

  22. My 3 children were in public school for a total of 16 years. I’ve paid into public schools every year for over 50 years. I did that for the kids of other people. Some of those kids I’m sure contributed to the success that my kids enjoy now.

  23. Public schools were created by the states to benefit the common good, which means that everyone pays–whether they have school aged children or not–so that children will become citizens and that we have a republic in our future. There is nothing that says that I have the right to get mine and hang the rest of you. I don’t know where you find evidence for the usual drivel about government waste and deadbeat teachers being representative, but I suspect that the public schools will outshine vouchers on that and any criterion you decide to set because they are responsible to the public. Private schools are private. Even so, those notions for wanting to opt out, get yours and hang the rest notwithstanding, the data show that public schools are, in fact, more effective that voucher schools. Those are facts. That means public schools are more effective in educating our children than vouchers, which means they are a better, as well as more constitutional, way to invest in our children.

  24. It might be interesting to see just how well folks who send their children to vouchers schools make out. Each county sends a breakdown of how much of your property taxes go to the schools, so you can determine to the penny how much you pay to the schools. If you take advantage of the vouchers, compare what the state pays for your kids with what you pay in taxes. I’ll bet you make out like a bandit, using the money that was paid from other people to pay for your kids.

  25. “Pretty funny how no one quite gets the voucher system.
    First off, Is it fair that the public school gets funding for my child anyway, even though I choose to send my child to private school. The school funding is based on the number of children (among other things). Why should the public school get funding for kids that do not even attend that school system.”

    Nick Foley; it is obvious to me that you do not understand the private vs. public schools or the voucher system. Children are required by law to be educated; thus, a percentage of our tax dollars are allocated to provide PUBLIC EDUCATION. Private schools are an option; a private decision made by parents who can easily afford or opt to cut corners to be able to afford to send their children to private school. To reach these private schools; your children and others are transported on public streets, roads and/or highways my taxes pay for. They at times cross bridges to reach their private schools whose plumbing is routed to public sewers my taxes also pay for. Come to think of it; you don’t understand the basics of the tax system either.

    I had a neighbor who actually believed her taxes gave her ownership of the street in front of her home at the end of our one block long cul de sac. Children, being children, sometimes didn’t get along and when this happened she let us know our children could not walk, ride bikes or big wheels or play on HER street. She also disallowed adults to use HER street; to protect HER street at these times she actually had her six children throw rocks at anyone who trespassed and often sicced her dog on us. After months of this nonsense the neighbor across the street from me and I offered her a deal; her children could not cross our section of the street at the entrance so couldn’t attend school, her husband could not drive across our street to go to and from work. She actually agreed to the trade-off we offered to share our street if she would share her’s.

    Your lack of understanding – or common sense – regarding school vouchers and public vs. private schools reminded me of her. Public education will never be “up to par” as long as public education tax dollars are looted by using the voucher system. As for our local current school system and those government programs that do not run efficiently and effectively to suit you; look at those currently in office and the reasoning behind their decisions and actions or inaction, then go to the polls on election day and vote them out.

  26. Nick, “First off, Is it fair that the public school gets funding for my child anyway, even though I choose to send my child to private school. ”
    With this (lack of) reasoning, why should I pay into the public school system at all? My husband and I never had children; we draw no benefit from public or private education. Unless, of course, you consider the millions of other people’s children who are now our doctor, dental hygienist, electrician, grocery store cashier, restaurant server, minister, lawyer, etc.
    We pay into the public school system for the benefit of society. And sometimes, the needs of the society supersede the desires of the individual.

  27. I don’t understand why vouchers are unconstitutional. Private schools are not run by elected school boards, but my tax money goes to those schools. We revolted in the 1770’s against the practice of taxation without representation. Have we given up on that principle in the 2010’s?

  28. Whoops! I aimed to say,”I don’t understand why vouchers are NOT unconstitutional.”

  29. In Arkansas, we have seen Koch money buy the last election and put in place a completely reactionary government. This newly compromised legislature and Governor Hutchinson attempted unsuccessfully to totally privatize education with the assistance of big Walton money. Superintendents and PTAs across the state pushed back and won. Still, these reactionaries push on. In the last several weeks they have announced millions will be going to Teach for America teachers, while talented and experienced National Board teachers will likely lose their stipends. Make no mistake about it; these people have been stealthily on the move for some time. They intend to script “lessons” and manipulate the education of poor kids in a way that will make money for the plutocracy, maintain a docile underclass, and destroy the job prospects for middle class educators.

  30. It seems more complex than class struggles, considering the very clear religious confusion and health issues, with children used to front social-moral lobbies. As a 1940s child in the first generation to attend public schools [Dayton and Louisville], coeducational and by residency, I have seen Indiana people get along without burning buses or bonfires much. On a visit to Belfast and the six Northern Ireland counties still in dispute, we saw British soldiers and constables sighting their rifles on children, bullet holes in Catholic School woodwork, the Irish flag burned and white supremacists marching with lodge banners. The conflict, wars, began there and here in the 1600s. We have our own additional moral wars, from the Appalachias to the Pacific, but role-reversals are still thematic in inspirational speakers. Exemptions from professional standards are evident in 21 States, but not in human technologies. Were it not for the hierarchical white rights stances of political and civic-social leaders, Indiana would not be in bad shape for adult education [all there is for guidance of minors].

  31. Everything that has been said about the concept of vouchers can and should also be applied to charter schools. They are privately owned, yet operate with our tax dollars. They are in direct competition with real public schools. They tout themselves to be public, yet taxation without representation applies here as we have no elected officials on charter school boards. Evidently no one in Indiana knows the warning signs of neoliberalism. Applying market based principles to social institutions designed for the common good is not working.

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