ALEC and Indiana’s Voucher Program

A friend recently sent me a rather eye-opening article by three Ball State University researchers. It appeared in an academic journal aimed at school superintendents: The AASA Journal of Scholarship and Practice. (No link available.)

The title was provocative: Hoosier Lawmaker? Vouchers, ALEC Legislative Puppets, and Indiana’s Abdication of Democracy. Few scholarly articles have titles quite that…combative, but the data was compelling (and the four pages of references were impressive).

Indiana has the nation’s largest voucher program, a result the article attributes to the excessive influence of ALEC (American Legislative Exchange Council) in the state. ALEC is a corporate lobbying organization, and its educational task forces are funded by the Charles Koch Foundation, the DeVos Foundation, the Friedman Foundation, Koch Industries, Sylvan Learning and several others; it’s fair to say–as the authors do– that the intensely ideological organization believes “competition is the only legitimate organizing principle for human activity.”

Some 25% of Indiana legislators are members of ALEC, which has been “a legislative force working silently behind the scenes in the Indiana Statehouse.”

The article traces the growth of Indiana’s school voucher program through its abandonment of initial enrollment caps, and the jettisoning of the early rule that children would not be eligible for vouchers unless they’d attended a public school for at least one year. Today, 55% of children using vouchers never attended a public school, and children who enroll in private preschools that accept vouchers are “automatically enrolled” in Indiana’s “choice scholarship” program.

The program is no longer limited to poor children, either: 31% of voucher families could afford private school tuition without state subsidies.

State support for vouchers in 2016-2017 totaled 146.1 million dollars. Between 2011 and 2017, Indiana has spent 520 million dollars on vouchers–and those are dollars that would otherwise have supported public schools. (To add insult to injury, the General Assembly has not required financial reporting by voucher schools–although public schools must disclose their finances.)

In the U.S., 80% of children in private schools are in religious schools; in Indiana, that number is 98%.

So much for the law and the money and the overwhelming influence of ALEC and religion: how are voucher schools performing?

Not very well.

Research shows “persistent, statistically-significant negative impacts” in math, and no improvement over public schools in reading. According to the report, almost 25% of these schools earned F grades from the state in 2015-16, compared to 5% of public schools ; every single online school got an F.

Then there’s segregation. Indiana’s voucher program has “become increasingly affluent and white,” which shouldn’t surprise us, since these schools “set their own admission standards and can reject students for any reason.”

There is much more–none of it reassuring.

Indiana’s voucher program is driven by the libertarian ideology of ALEC and the religious zealotry of Mike Pence and (later) Betsy DeVos–not by considered policymaking by school boards elected to make those policies. The program is draining resources from  schools that serve all children, and redirecting those resources to religious institutions that may or may not be teaching real science and accurate American history.

My biggest problem with these programs is in their underlying assumption that education is just another consumer good–a set of skills to make one’s child competitive in the marketplace. Certainly, schools should provide those skills, but in the U.S., public education is also, in Benjamin Barber’s felicitous phrase, “constitutive of a public.” It is an essential element of democracy, especially in a country as diverse as ours.

Our democratic institutions and norms are currently under unprecedented attack from a feckless Congress and a lunatic in the White House–this is no time to shortchange the public schools, no time to abandon e pluribus unum for profit-making ventures offering tribal truths and substandard educations.

27 thoughts on “ALEC and Indiana’s Voucher Program

  1. The author has the cart before the horse: ALEC is the real Legislator (The singular being intentional) and the so-called Legislators who follow the call are the puppets.

    I have been tracking ALEC and talking about its insidious danger since the early 90’s when I heard it exposed on an NPR program on a Saturday morning. Before that time I had wondered what the mechanism was that allowed almost identical legislation to become law throughout the States in the matter of a couple of years. (One of the categories of laws that had become ubiquitous at that time was the Tough on Crime category.)

    If anyone is not familiar with ALEC’s mode of operation I will be happy to enlighten them. ALEC, in my opinion, has,much more than any other single entity, changed the entire domestic policy focus of the US, starting with the leadership of Paul Weirich during the Reagan presidency, covertly and tax-free.

  2. I attended a kind of sort of public forum last Saturday where the two local District legislators were invited to give a legislative update. By kind of sort of I mean that if you aren’t a R or a member of the Indiana Farm Bureau one must be lucky enough to find out about these ‘public’ forms’ by chance. I found out about it at 8:45 Saturday morning and was the first ine there when the doors opened up at 9:30.

    Dave Wolkins is the District 18 State Rep and is a State Chair for ALEC. I’ve brought up ALEC to him at prior forums and he defends it. Last Saturday I brought up gerrymandering and redistricting reform to both of them. Since I first challenged Wolkins 2 years ago he has switched from seeing no problem in Indiana to agreeing that yes, we do have a problem and he says it needs to be addressed.

    He came up to me after the meeting and said he was surprised that I was easy on him that day. We had a discussion about other issues and I pressed him on ALEC, their secrecy and the corporate bills that they write and deliver to legislators on silver platters. He claimed that ALEC is no longer secret and that if you go to their website they are completely transparent. He must have thought I was naive like most of his consituents. I brought up how secretive they were at the national convention in Indy just a couple years ago. He claimed that they now only hold a very few executive meetings that are not open to the public. Again, he must have said this to enough people that he actually thinks we believe him.

    I am going to call him to set up a time to meet with him privately in the very near future to press him on some serious issues in out state.

    This man is finishing his 32nd year as a State Rep and told me he has no intention of retiring. He has a very safe seat and knows it. I pressed the issue to him that it really is time for him to retire and let someone else serve, even if it is another R. This is just one of the many issues I will bring up again in our one on one meeting.

    Please make the effort to meet with your district legislators to make your voices heard. They only hear from their donor base and supporters. More of us need to make the effort to let them know our opinions on issues and about what is important to us.

  3. Face it; Indiana’s Public School system – including its tax budget – is privately owned by the Republican Party to do with as they see fit…or unfit That includes shifting money from one line item (public schools) to the voucher line item (private/religious schools). Textbooks will be replaced with Bibles; how soon will our law books be replaced with Bibles? Will ALEC be in charge of the book-burning which will be the only way to rid access to actual educational resources? The Nazis succeeded by using this technique; only temporarily but…look at the cost in lives. Republicans are going about this in a more insidious way; by “deconstrution” of the federal government and the distraction of a mentally unbalanced man sitting in the Oval Office ruling the country via his Twitter account. They are working from the top down (Trump) and from the bottom up (education system); we are trapped in the middle with no escape route at this time.

    “Our democratic institutions and norms are currently under unprecedented attack from a feckless Congress and a lunatic in the White House–this is no time to shortchange the public schools, no time to abandon e pluribus unum for profit-making ventures offering tribal truths and substandard educations.”

    This “unprecedented attack” began years ago in the name of “integration” when the quality of education in public schools began to deteriorate in earnest. Rather than improving all public schools to higher quality, it began eroding all schools, lowering the quality of education. We are nearing the level in the public education system comparable to that of the “discovery” of the concentration camps and the Holocaust from which Europe has never fully recovered. Their school systems were one of the initial targets by the Third Reich; are we currently living under the Fourth Reich? How many past and present students in this country’s education systems – at all levels – know what the term ” e pluribus unum” means? How many have even heard or read the term?

    Yes; again I am showing my conspiracy theory mind set. I am old enough to remember actually being educated in public schools where I learned to read and write – how many public school attendees, graduates or drop outs – can say the same today?

  4. Prof wrote:
    “a feckless Congress and a lunatic in the White House”
    One year down. Hang on

  5. JoAnn,

    “…..are we currently living under the Fourth Reich.”

    I thought that was a given. The difference between the Third and the Fourth Reich can be seen on the wall next to the President’s desk. Under the Third Reich, you would have a picture of Adolph Hitler on the wall. During the new Fourth Reich, you now have a picture of ex-President Andrew Jackson hanging on the wall next to Donald Trump’s desk.

    Racism is racism no matter how you paint it.

  6. Indiana’s voucher program is nothing more than a work around for Brown v. Board, and the establishment clause. Looking at the numbers, there must be a point at which a case can be made against the outcomes, especially because of the diversion of money from public schools- disparate impact. In the meantime, the legislators who are members of ALEC should the first to be voted out. It should be a conflict of interest to be both a member of ALEC and a state legislator (but yeah, it’s Indiana, where conflict of interest is just an annoying thought).

  7. Isn’t it about time to bring a suit against the state for the fraud they are perpetrating on the people of Indiana?

  8. My hometown of Elwood (IN) is suffering from this “abandonment of democracy.” As reported in the Indianapolis Star last November (, the state legislature has used laws to create a system of winners and losers, or school systems that are worth the money and those that are not. In Elwood, a town north of Noblesville and just east of Anderson with a high rate of poverty, that means they lose. The school admins have done everything they can to make the school operate efficiently, but their are financial obligations, mandates and laws that require funding from the state that just isn’t getting to Elwood. I came from this town and the schools where nearly every teacher I had in the 60s and 70s had a doctorate. The public schools in Elwood gave us notable Hoosiers such as Wendell Willkie, Congressman Phil Sharp and poet Jared Carter.

    Now state legislaters have decided that the children of Elwood, just like Gary, Muncie and many others are not worth the money to educate them and even worse, the residents of those towns do not have the right to control their own schools they have funded with their taxes. ALEC policies and “model legislation” are going to bring this school system down along with many others until all public school corporations are controlled by the state.

    There has never been a more important time to get the leaders of the state legislature – Bosma and Long out of office.

  9. ALEC’s biggest cheerleader in Indiana is US Rep 3rd Jim Banks. He was a prolific writer of bills in the Indiana General Assembly and every one of them was cut and pasted out of the ALEC model legislation playbook. He’s never had an original thought in his life.

    A bright energetic woman name Courtney Tritch is running against him this year. Please consider offering her your support. (I approved this message – LOL).

  10. Research shows “persistent, statistically-significant negative impacts” in math, and no improvement over public schools in reading.

    But they all know who “Jesus” is …

  11. As has been seen in Michigan also….thanks to Betsy Wetsy who would like to see the country’s public schools turned into private charter schools with no recourse as to her helping herself to public coffers that fund the schools……apparently no amount of money is enough for this money whore!! She’s tried her twisted, for profit, scam here in Michigan and about got laffed out of the state….which is why she’s now trying her scam across the country….time to kick all the Rethugs out of Washington before this country begins to look like a third world country!!!

  12. documentary,,,,heist,who stole the american dream,,, about the inception of alec..
    plutocracy,, and shadows of democracy… also about the corprate mindset…

  13. Aside from the personal tragedy of under-education and its privatization for gain looms the collective costs to the community for not having adequately prepared its students to live and work in a lopsided economy and an increasingly complex society.. An adherence to the views of the Gentle Nazarene in isolated context is not bad, nor a philosophy of a Gandhi, but these are not areas that should be financed via the public till, ALEC, Pastor Pence or other politicians to the contrary notwithstanding.

    Having not practiced in Indiana since 1970, I presume without knowing that there has already been litigation challenging the distribution of public funding for private/home schooling and that it failed. Assuming such, and since the only check on a supermajority is the Constitution (state and/or federal). perhaps a new fact situation can be found as a basis for another suit that can avert dismissal on the appellate road to a finding that church and state (and private and public) schooling must be constitutionally separated in the public funding of education.

    We have a battle on our hands against the libertarian forces of privatization of everything public. Our trading system and our economy are already virtually free from public controls and it appears our educational system is on the brink. To the Bastille come November, 2018.

  14. Red George; but they seem to have forgotten it was Jesus who ran the money changers out of the Temple.

  15. No surprise, really. Public education is not supposed to be a profit center, but Republicans and their monolithic funders want to squeeze every nickel out of publicly-funded entities that actually do good things. ANYTHING sponsored by the Koch brothers and DeVos are harmful to the public and only benefit the wealthy.

    It’s also not surprising that the voucher schools perform so poorly. They are, for the most part, allowed to deviate from state-wide or national norms for competence, and thus reduce their efforts to make more money.

    Vouchers for private schools is just another brick in the wall toward our becoming a third-world nation.

  16. Gerald E. Stinson @ 10:56 am >> Having not practiced in Indiana since 1970, I presume without knowing that there has already been litigation challenging the distribution of public funding for private/home schooling and that it failed.<<

    You are correct. I believe the rationale (if you can call it that) was the funding follows the child and the parents have the choice of how to use that money. I do not know if this scam ever was brought to the US Supreme Court.

    If you extended this "rationale" out that the tax payer where determines where funding is spent, you could specify I only want my tax dollars spent in Marion County.

    Hopefully, the study Hoosier Lawmaker? Vouchers, ALEC Legislative Puppets, and Indiana’s Abdication of Democracy, will be sent to our Legislators, Teachers Unions, and Media in this state and surrounding states.

    Will the Democratic Party in Indiana seize the report and finally challenge the privatization of our school system?? My guess is the Democratic Party in this state will stay in the bunkers.

    Knowing our small minded intellectually challenged General Assembly they will probably want to investigate these three Ball State University researchers and figure out a way to defund any reports like this in the future.

  17. Colorado is not far behind with charter schools growing fast in numbers. As a semi retired teacher of Social Studies of almost 40 years, I have witnessed and have been on the negative impact side of dumbing down the quality of education. I have been threatened with firing by administrators ,because I required my students to Earn their grades and recorded many D and F grades when the students did not do their work or study. I have seen many other teachers face the same threat by administrators.
    I exposed big discrepancies in the district budget finding large sums of hidden money, when we were told there was little money for salary raises. I have found the same corruption in supply budgets, book budgets and more. This is a solidly Republican county, so I know more of the public school money is being siphoned off to support charter schools. The ultra conservatives do not have the balls to come right out and say that they want the public education system to die, they just use the back door approach.

  18. Professor says: In the U.S., 80% of children in private schools are in religious schools; in Indiana, that number is 98%.

    Isn’t there a lawyer out there that can take this statistic and file a complaint with the state or the feds?

    outrage fatigued

  19. I googled the site the article was based on. This is the link:

    This should be shared on social media by everyone that feels moved by it and make our friends and neighbors that are not aware of the misleading tactics being employed aware. We, the voters are puppets that are not engaging in educating ourselves on this crap and rooting them out of our legislature. This is the time to engage and really do something. Share this with your fb groups that are working to make change. There is good information here to share with all.

  20. “ALEC is a corporate lobbying organization, and its educational task forces are funded by the Charles Koch Foundation, the DeVos Foundation, the Friedman Foundation, Koch Industries, Sylvan Learning and several others; it’s fair to say–as the authors do– that the intensely ideological organization believes “competition is the only legitimate organizing principle for human activity.””

    I don’t believe this. The key word is not “competition”, the enemy of capitalists everywhere, it’s profit, their only raison d’être. If nobody is profiting from some enterprise it’s a missed opportunity for wealth redistribution up.

    And that’s ALEC’s raison d’être.

  21. There is absolutely no legitimate reason to have private schools in a democracy other than for training clergy. If one bothers to look you’ll find that private schools dramatically increased after Brown V Board of Education. They are nothing but a way to circumvent public school desegregation. As such they are anti-democratic and anti-Christian as they resemble madrassas by virtually every standard one can use in their evaluation.

  22. Our whole country is skewed. It’s bad when we are burdened w Trump and constant fear that we’ll get blown up, and our choice if we get Trump out is a Dominionist whose backers see Pence as part of the plan to take over the country. I wonder if he, as Cruz, is “anointed” as a king of one of the mountains. Our public schools in Kansas venerated the Bible But we also respected other religious groups. That was good manners.

  23. This conversation had been decided and reaffirmed by the Supreme Court in Zelman v. Simmons-Harris (2003). As you would read in the case, the money from the vouchers goes to the parents. The parents then CHOOSE the school that their child will attend using the voucher. Indiana’s system is modeled after Ohio’s system and the Court has upheld the constitutionality of vouchers in other recent decisions as well.

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