It Really Isn’t About the Quality of Education

No one who watched Mike Pence dramatically expand Indiana’s voucher program at the expense of the state’s public schools, and certainly no one who has followed the appointment and appalling performance of Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos, could come away thinking “Boy, those people really care about education!”

Despite their rhetoric, Pence, DeVos and a number of other proponents of “educational choice” have a decidedly religious agenda. DeVos has been quoted as saying that vouchers will usher in “God’s kingdom.” Pence’s voucher program hasn’t improved educational outcomes, but it has financially benefitted the religious schools that participate.

And the religious schools that do participate in Indiana’s voucher program have seen to it that some children don’t even have that much-touted “choice.” As Chalkbeat recently reported,

When it comes to school choice, options are more limited for Indiana’s LGBT students.

Lighthouse Christian Academy in Bloomington recently made headlines for promising students an excellent, “biblically integrated” education — unless they identify as lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender. The school also received more than $650,000 in public funds last year through the state’s voucher program.

In Indiana, over 34,299 students used vouchers to attend a private school last fall, making it the largest such program in the country. It’s also a program that U.S. Education Secretary Betsy DeVos has applauded — which means Indiana offers a helpful glimpse at how a DeVos-led national expansion of vouchers might shape up.

Our investigation found that roughly one in 10 of Indiana’s voucher schools publicly shares a policy suggesting or declaring that LGBT students are not welcome. Together, the 27 schools received over $16 million in public funds for participating last year.

Many private, religious schools are also accredited by a group that provides advice about how to turn away LGBT students. Given that nearly 20 percent of schools do not publicize their admissions policies, the true number of schools with anti-LGBT policies is unclear.

Of the 27 schools with explicitly anti-LGBT policies, 14 were accredited by the Association of Christian Schools International, a pro school-choice group that provides its members with a handbook titled “Steps Your School Can Take When Dealing With Homosexual Issues.”

The Chalkbeat article quotes religious school officials who stress the importance of respecting the religious views of schools operated by different denominations. I have no quarrel with respecting their right to teach their beliefs; I do have a quarrel with their right to have those beliefs subsidized with my tax dollars.

In Zelman v. Simmons-Harris, the Supreme Court ruled that vouchers to religious schools did not violate the religion clauses of the First Amendment, because the vouchers (theoretically) went to the parents, who were free to use them at either religious or secular schools. The problem with this approach is the same as the problem facing gay children in Indiana: the “choice” is illusory, because virtually all of the participating schools are religious.

Charter schools–which are still public schools– manage to operate while being subject to the same constitutional and civil rights constraints that apply to traditional public schools. There’s no reason that private schools–religious or not– that benefit from voucher dollars shouldn’t be required to do likewise.

Of course, at some point, Hoosiers are going to have to face up to the fact that although vouchers do not improve student’s test scores, they certainly do improve the bottom lines of participating religious schools.

Despite being marketed as a way to give parents a “choice” to enroll their children in “better” schools, Indiana’s vouchers are simply a financial windfall for religious schools at the expense of our public schools. And if a few LGBTQ kids face discrimination, well that’s just too bad.

It certainly doesn’t bother DeVos and Pence.


  1. It’s like everything else: our elected officials assume we’re too complacent or stupid to determine the not-so-subtle difference between what they say and what they mean on education or anything else. Maybe they’re right on a scale large enough to sustain them in the majority.

  2. We will be too complacent to overcome political bullying as long as free speech permits us to vent instead of act.

  3. The religious schools also find excuses to refuse admission of physically or mentally disabled students, which creates an even larger financial burden on the public school systems who may have lost students that don’t require the extra funds that disabled students do. They get to have their cake and eat it too.

    This country has fought over religious denominational powers since it’s inception. It appears this fight will never end. My hope is that the younger generations will push back hard against descrimination of all types when it is their chance/time to take over leadership of our country.

  4. The continued support of the voucher system by religious minded folk speaks volumes about those supporters.

    It speaks to their selfishness as they take limited resources from those who do not share their religious beliefs to unfairly provide for their own children.

    It speaks to their prejudices as they see those who do not share their beliefs as undeserving.

    It speaks to their rejection of the American values that hold that all are created equal and the government is not to be used to establish a religion… any religion.

  5. One of my greatest worries is what kind of science are they teaching in these schools? Will the next generation believe that the earth is only roughly 6,000 years old? Will they believe that God will save the earth from whatever may befall it due to climate change? Will they hold steadfastly that man does not contribute to climate change?

  6. As a former Teacher Corps teacher and a public school teacher, I was often quizzical regarding teachers who boasted about certain students in their classes, as if to take credit for excellence in teaching when such highly talented children came from well Heeled homes of “high class” people. The Teacher Corps, on the other hand, took on the work of teaching students in challenged neighborhoods, often finding the joy of watching average to challenged students progress due to the dedication and ability of Teacher Corps Interns. Private schools do not take on the work of teaching challenged students. But they do claim wonders of success as if they were responsible for excellence. To consider private schools as echelons of model education is like calling Usain Bolt’s coach the paragon of developing of speed. Coach Abe Martin was ask how he coached Bob Lilly. Reply: I line him up and get out of his way. Perhaps private schools should acknowledge how much of that they do.

  7. I’ve never been a proponent of vouchers for private schools nor of public charter schools. When public charter schools became trendy. the ‘choice’ du jour, in Indiana, primarily in Indianapolis and its incubator for public charter schools, The Mind Trust, I realized the ‘choice’ people had their foot in the door and that it was only a matter of time until private schools would want a piece of the ‘choice’ pie, too.

    As far as special education services for students in private schools, whether independent schools or religious schools, Federal special education law dictates, and has dictated for years, that students with identified disabilities will receive special education services from the local public education school district where the child resides.

    I distinctly remember 4 years from 2004 through 2008 while I was under contract as an IPS special educator assigned to Arlington High School that I also had 5 or 6 students with disabilities on my Case Load of 12 who were enrolled in Cathedral High School and Roncalli High School, both private Catholic schools. As the Case Load manager for these students, I traveled to the private high schools where I held parent and teacher meetings to discuss the IEP (individual education program) that I had drafted for their consideration. I occasionally thought this process was a hassle and not extremely productive since I did not know the students in question, had to rely on their private school teachers for classroom progress or lack of progress, and essentially was working in the dark.

  8. SCOTUS also ruled 5-4 that there is no evidence of corruption when political campaign donors give monies to candidates. There is no reciprocity.

    After his death, Antonin Scalia, was bestowed a great gift by the Koch brothers, a major Scalia contributor. They renamed their George Mason University of Law after Scalia.

    If you want to know where all these ideas for vouchers are coming from, please visit the website watching and holding accountable the American Legislative and Exchange Council’s (ALECs) website:,_Higher_Ed_Policy,_and_Teachers

    If you think colleges are exempt from this privatization effort, it’s called denial. 😉

    They’ve been working on education reform for a VERY LONG TIME.

  9. Todd Smekens, I’d be interested to hear your thoughts about public charter schools, but only if you wish to share your personal thoughts/feelings. Thanks.

  10. I wonder what would have happened in post war baby boom if all those Catholics had sent their kids to public schools instead? These families & their churches assumed the tuition costs for all their kids at the relief of the public schools. These parents felt like they were paying twice, since most worked to pay mega taxes & tuition. These schools usally packed with 50-60 students per class comparatively had better results with less money. It was a burden to families to choose to do this & a strain on bare bones classrooms. A credit on each taxpayers child(student) seems a fair way (financially) to distribute education. Past public education was funded by these taxes, but minus a lot of elligable students. It seems the remaining students in public schools must have benefited from more resources due to this situation. Also Catholic schools are required to follow state approved curriculum & appropriate testing.

  11. I do not believe my tax dollars, i.e., property taxes, should go to fund religious school voucher programs. Who do I approach to fight this abhorrent practice which goes against the grain of my belief in separation of church and state? As an educator of constitutional law, do you think I can sue the State of Indiana? Yes, I realize one can file suit against virtually any other party; however, would such a lawsuit be winnable IYO?

  12. There is education, that is the traditional, “3 R’s” and add in critical thinking. Critical thinking would include Science and Technology and a questioning of “isms” as facts.

    We can sit from a safe distance sit in awe of the electronic information from satellites and radar of Hurricane Harvey. Calculations of it’s course, wind speed and the amount of potential rainfall is delivered in real time.

    We cannot stop hurricanes but we can mitigate their destructive power via risk assessment. This where the human factor comes into play.

    There is an excellent article in the Guardian today – Trump’s rollback of flood protections risks further Houston-style calamity – An executive order issued by Trump earlier this month revoked an Obama-era directive that had established flood-risk standards for federally funded infrastructure projects built in areas prone to flooding or subject to the effects of sea-level rise – like many of those now sinking in Texas.

    It is not just the denial of global warming, it is a denial of risk assessment and the planning that must accompany it prior to development – construction. What should have happened 30 years ago or so in the Houston area was for competent hydraulic engineers to lay out a plan – untainted by the influence of developers and politicians concerning drainage. An educated public could have understood the wisdom of regulations, rather than responding to the dog whistles of “onerous regulations” impeding growth (Capitalism).

    I feel confident our Corporate Media will not investigate why the destruction in the Houston area was so great. It will probably take only a week and then the Corporate Media will allow Harvey to fade from it’s memory, just like Flint, Michigan.

  13. Whether we approve or don’t approve of private schools, either independent schools or religious schools, for years our Federal government has held a favorable look at these particular schools especially via the IRS practices with boarding schools.

    Many folks living in the Heartland believe that children who attend private boarding schools, either independent boarding schools or religious boarding schools, are children who exhibit juvenile delinquent tendencies and behaviors; however, for those living in the Northeast or on the Eastern Seacoast, that is not a widely held belief.

    My older son attended Episcopal High School (, a private boarding school in Alexandria, Virginia, for four years, not because he was a juvenile delinquent or had behavior issues, but rather because he wanted the most rigorous high school education that was available in our particular area. Near the close of his first year at EHS, we received a payment profile of his tuition, and I was surprised to learn that approximately 50% of his tuition was considered ‘child care’ by the IRS. By the way, one of his classmates was Paul Pelosi, Nancy Pelosi’s son, who received the same generous tax write-off for ‘child care’ that I received.

    Our government is intricately involved with private school education whether we like it or don’t like it. And, I don’t especially like private school vouchers.

  14. Charter schools are not public schools, even when state laws call them that. They are private schools that receive public money. They are the first step towards full privatization. They are the. Gateway to vouchers. When anyone challenges charter corporations in federal court, their defense is that they are not “state actors” and therefore not subject to state laws. The NLRB recently ruled that charters are not subject to labor laws because they are not public schools. Documentation: read my last book: “Reign of Error: The Hoax of the Privatization Movement and the Danger to America’s Public Schools”

    Diane Ravitch

  15. I am not opposed to private schooling which may teach a particular religious view so long as no public funding is involved and curricular standards are enforced. Arithmetic and Longfellow should be staples of learning whatever one may believe about illusion and the hereafter because we have to live in a real world while awaiting the outcome of beliefs. I do not believe in public funding of education that is not public, including textbooks and schoolbuses, which I believe the Supreme Court wrongly decided to pay for with public funds long ago with contorted language finding that such expenses were not in aid of religion. My now-deceased wife, a professor of education, often said that if we lived next door to a Lutheran school (She was a Lutheran) that the children would go to public school. She was and is right. Using public funding to further religious training is, in my view, unconstitutional, and nitpicking on the expenses involved in the process does not somehow render reimbursment of such expenses constitutional.

  16. , the Supreme Court ruled that vouchers to religious schools did not violate the religion clauses of the First Amendment, because the vouchers (theoretically) went to the parents, who were free to use them at either religious or secular schools.

    Didn’t I read in the constitution or something similar that not a penny of public money goes to any school other than public schools? Vouchers walk like a duck, act like a duck and quack like a duck. Therefore, they must be public monies not available to any other schools.

  17. Kathy; you are correct that parents of Catholics students, and any other religious and/or private schools, do pay tuition and some of their tax dollars go to support public schools. All of us pay taxes which supports infrastructure, fire and police protection for those same religious buildings, churches which include schools, while they pay no tax.

    Consider this; I live alone so I use the city sanitary sewers far less than the families throughout this city, I only drive 2-4 times monthly on city streets which is much less than neighbors who drive on our streets more than once daily. Of course I do take daily walks on city sidewalks, weather permitting, while the vast majority only cross sidewalks to get to their vehicles. If you can figure out a way to portion tax paying with usage of infrastructure and public buildings I doubt any government official would consider it – well, maybe Trump would believe that is the far-right way to do things.

    All private schools are optional; the law requires all children attend school; public, private or home-schooled, education is not optional. The voucher system (Indiana has the largest voucher system in the country) is the newest way to deduct OUR tax dollars from public education funds.

    BSH; Federal law may dictate that students with identifiable disabilities receive needed education, that does not mean it happens in all schools. Like the countless Federal laws and dictates covering the vast spectrum of all our lives; that does not mean they are being applied or followed.

  18. George, I wish that you would take on the challenge of filing a lawsuit against the government for thw unconstitutional use of public funds for religious training.

  19. The teaching in religious schools can meet state requirements and propagate religious doctrine at the same time. Science may be taught with a strong emphasis on Biblical tales of creation served as an “alternative” or evolutionary theory may be completely ignored or denigrated by an instructor. History may be taught, but the emphasis in the classroom will be on the history that reflects the religious doctrines of the congregation offering it. Social studies can meet minimum requirements of state law but, again, be presented in such a way as to emphasize the worldview of the sponsoring religion. Missionary stories and reports about other countries are a good example.
    The parents of my classmates in Catholic school chose to send us to a religious school for a mix of reasons. Before 1960, many Catholics took that option because social norms and public policies viewed Catholics as a threat. I attended both public and private schools at that time. There was very little, if any, time spent on science in the Catholic schools but lots of time spent on the religion and history. My public school studies were very comprehensive, but tinged with very subtle, sometimes not so subtle, humiliation and denigration of my religious identity by classroom teachers and classmates with no consequence to the perpetrators but punishment for me for being “disruptive”.
    I would posit that many Jewish families chose to send their kids to private religious schools for the same social and policy reasons. It was a haven from discrimination and bullying.

    As an aside, EdChoice, formerly the Friedman Foundation, is headquartered in Indianapolis. Former known as the Friedman Foundation for Educational Choice, founded by Milton Friedman, it champions and financially supports voucher options. Friedman first presented vouchers as an option to southern governors after the 1954 Brown V. Board SCOTUS decision. That option would allow segregation to continue, funded by tax dollars to private “academies” while starving public schools that served the non-white community.

    I vehemently oppose subsidizing private religious schools with tax dollars, whether with vouchers or charter franchises. They are and have always been about segregation, whether by race, religion or class.

  20. It didn’t help that the voucher crusaders got what they wanted while the Democrats for Education Reform (DFER) were on the choice bandwagon – and they got played BIGLY.

  21. Nancy, how about a Class Action lawsuit by enlisting all of us of like mind? Any lawyers among us who know the drill?

  22. All–This case has been litigated. The Supreme Court held that vouchers don’t violate the Establishment Clause, because the money (theoretically) goes to the parents, who can choose what school really gets it. The Indiana Supreme Court held that Indiana’s Constitutional provision prohibiting tax dollars going to religious institutions didn’t apply, for much the same reason.

    I disagreed with both decisions, but they’re the judges and I’m not.

  23. Dr. Kennedy – With new proof of this scam can the case be reheard?
    Is there no balm in Gilead?

  24. One lawsuit was filed against vouchers in the State of Indiana and it lost, but I don’t now of any voucher lawsuit brought on the basis of ‘taxation without representation’. Voucher schools do not abide by public records or public meetings laws required of traditional public schools. Neither do voucher schools let the public have a vote on their school board members.

    As noted by Sheila, voucher schools also discriminate. While the courts have said that the parents have a choice (which really is the school’s choice of who to enroll), the non-parent taxpayers have no choice in how their tax dollars are spent in a given private school.

    Voucher schools want the money with no accountability to taxpayers. That must change.

  25. Sheila; applying the term “reason” to this decision is hardly applicable, is it? Would be laughable if it wasn’t so unfair and so costly and shaping the lives of our future leaders.

    JD; I copied and pasted your comments below because they brought back memories of my childhood during the 1940’s and 1950’s. There were families in my Indianapolis westside neighborhood whose children attended different schools. Their children were not allowed to mingle or play with the rest of the children, parents would call them into the house if I tried to talk to them and adults were not friendly to us or neighborly to other adults. I was in high school when I learned they were Catholics; to me that simply meant they went to a Catholic Church rather than the Methodist Church in the neighborhood. I learned not long ago from a friend, a former Catholic, her family’s reason was so our evilness would not rub off on their saintly children. When I asked why the black children, living 2 blocks from the school did not attend, I got the same answer, they go to a different school. We are reaping the results of what our parents sowed during those long ago years when we were most vulnerable (or is gullible a more fitting term?) during our “formative years”. Looking at our current government we see the results of past years of parenting from a different vantage point; no longer believing in the American Dream because we cannot afford it. What happens if public education collapses completely under the Trump/DeVos onslaught of religion and money? Will all parents be forced to pick a religion rather than a school to educate their children?
    “The parents of my classmates in Catholic school chose to send us to a religious school for a mix of reasons. Before 1960, many Catholics took that option because social norms and public policies viewed Catholics as a threat.”

  26. Nancy Papas – great comments!

    Okay – are there any lawyers out there who would be willing to take a stab at another lawsuit against vouchers?

    Haven’t other supreme court decisions been overturned or modified before?

  27. Especially relevant to Individual Choice Theory here is Tom Slee’s “No One Makes You Shop At Walmart” – he points out at length how free markets aren’t, and choices are limited, with reference to the Tragedy of the Commons.

  28. ALL schools have to meet specific minimum state requirements: public, private AND religious. If minimum standards are met for educating a child, why should you care where a parent chooses to send them?

    The biggest fear of public education bureaucrats and teachers unions is they’ll lose their hold on their education funding. (hello…. the TAX payers money)

    You’re worried about spreading out resources too thin with more students getting vouchers? Just think how much more resources would be available if those bureaucracies were greatly reduced. Wait, then there wouldn’t be jobs for all those bureaucrats and union leaders.

    Competition is a good thing. Charters and vouchers are breaking down the stranglehold. “Public” schools have a “choice”: Adapt, innovate, compete and achieve or get pushed aside for someone else who can do it better than you can.

  29. William – You are reframing the issues. When you give money to parents instead of the schools (but whom the parents pay with the public monies thus received) you are aiding religious education whatever the Supreme Court says. The fact that the check is in the mail not to the school but to the parents is, in my view, immaterial, and please, let’s quit blaming the victims and unions for the free rides religion is getting courtesy of the public till and other forms of largesse, arguments that dance around the issues, because even if the propaganda you are repeating were true, the fundamental issues of public monies for religious education remain unaddressed by the judiciary with their Solomanic attempts to please everybody. Half a loaf is not better than none.

  30. Gerald; parents do not actually receive the money, the voucher is a notice of the amount which will be paid to the school of their choice for their child. Many people believe the parents actually receive the money in hand which fits with the ill advised decision of the Supreme Court regarding the Establishment Clause. SCOTUS really should be better informed regarding the use of our tax dollars…(spoken tongue-in-cheek).

    Copied and pasted from Sheila’s comment:
    “…the money (theoretically) goes to the parents, who can choose what school really gets it.”

  31. I read, possibly in the Star or from Indiana Coalition for Public Education; if a voucher student leaves the private school for any reason, the voucher funds stay in that school’s budget. Is that the policy for tuition for private schools?

  32. Theoretically a religious school getting public money still sounds like an unconstitutional use of public funds. Aren’t these the same goofs that decided korporations are people and money is free speech?

    This wouldn’t even be funny in a joke. I’m guessing wingnut justices have a pretzel maker they run their considered opinions through before releasing them.

  33. The Establishment Clause in the First Amendment of the Constitution is what people are referring to when they think it’s unconstitutional for religious organizations to receive public funding for any reason. The Clause actually covers both side of the argument…. the government can’t show preference towards any religion AND AT THE SAME TIME (the part that is left out of the understanding ) the government can’t unduly prefer non-religion over religion. There’s lots of gray area to keep lawyers employed but bottom line the courts have ruled that if the government is funding education it can’t show preference for/against institutions that are non-religions OR religious.

  34. JoAnn – So the money is sent to the school, to the parents or via a notice that so much is available to “a school of your choice?” What’s the difference? It’s money from the public till that parents do not have to pay and is therefore a public credit to their account. These sleight of hand accounting games ignore the fundamental issue of whether the public is funding religious education and by any reasonable standard it, in my view, is. It appears we are headed toward little to no distinction at all in funding private and public education piece by piece as we nitpick methodlologies to fit our view of constitutional meaning. When are the churches going to start funding the rest of us by paying taxes? Why a one-way street?

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