The Vouchers Scam

A recent state report and a blistering–and entirely correct–blog post from Doug Masson pretty much destroy the myth that Indiana’s school vouchers do anything for poor children, or were really intended for use by children “trapped” in failing schools.

The 2018-19 voucher report from Indiana’s Department of Education includes the information that there are over 1,300 households receiving vouchers that have incomes over $100,000. That means those households are in the top twenty percent of Hoosiers by income.

It’s impossible to read the report without concluding that Indiana’s voucher program was purposely constructed to evade the constitutional prohibition against government support for religion–designed to allow taxpayer dollars to be diverted from the state’s public schools and used to promote religious education. (Nearly all of the participating private schools are religious.)

Indiana’s voucher program costs taxpayers $161.4 million and disproportionately serves white children, many of whom are clearly not “escaping failing schools” because–despite lawmakers’ original promises– they never attended public school.

As Doug Masson wrote, after reading the report:

This reinforces my view that the real intention of voucher supporters was and is: 1) hurt teacher’s unions; 2) subsidize religious education; and 3) redirect public education money to friends and well-wishers of voucher supporters. Also, a reminder: vouchers do not improve educational outcomes. I get so worked up about this because the traditional public school is an important part of what ties a community together — part of what turns a collection of individuals into a community. And community feels a little tough to come by these days. We shouldn’t be actively eroding it.

Vouchers have now been around long enough to allow for a fair amount of academic research, and–as Doug points out–that research has pretty thoroughly rebutted the assumption that sending children to private religious schools would lead to improvement in classroom performance. At best, students post academic results that are the same as those of their peers who attend public schools, and in several studies, academic outcomes were actually worse.

What vouchers have done successfully is re-segregate student bodies, and there is some emerging evidence that avoiding racial integration was the real motive for a number of proponents. For others–notably, former Indiana Governor Mike Pence and Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos–the voucher program was a way to prop up the declining finances of Christian religious schools.

If they could also destroy the teachers’ unions, well, that was just icing on the cake.

For those looking to avoid integration or working to “bring children to Jesus” with our tax dollars, the rhetoric about giving poor families “choice” was a marketing ploy. (I do think it is interesting that conservatives who are such rabid proponents of individual choice when it comes to schooling and health care are so horrified at the prospect that pregnant women might also want to exercise it…)

The Department of Education’s report should be a wake-up call for Indiana’s lawmakers, but then, this is gerrymandered Indiana, where rural voters call the shots….and those elected to safe seats in the General Assembly feel free to prioritize their ideologies over the will of the voters.


  1. Many thanks for once again bringing this problem to light. This needs to stop.

  2. This is entirely correct. Thank you Sheila! It occurs to me that vouchers are based on a market model — if you give students an out from public schools, you “save” those seeking exit and “incentivize” the public school to improve so it can attract back the “customers” it lost. But … A) it can’t compete when it doesn’t control its own budget (thank you, State of Indiana) AND B) it keeps failing, and what happened to the “remaining” students in the interim? It is so unfair to them independently of the fact that some of the vouchers take students to schools that may not be any better anyway. It is unconscionable to risk students’ educations by acting as if they are mere consumers in a perfectly functioning educational marketplace.

  3. I hate knowing that our tax dollars are going to fund church schools
    That is just wrong – It really makes me angry

  4. I am in close, daily contact with someone who works in an Indianapolis Catholic church and school. Their 2019-2020 school year tuition is $6,000 for Catholic students, $7,500 for non-Catholic students and vouchers pay a good portion of that amount. I haven’t read all public statements or opinions about the overload of local voucher students but have not seen the issue of transportation referred to as part of the voucher system. Voucher students must provide their own transportation to get to the schools; for low-income families this presents a problem but public education must continue providing transportation to assigned public schools. Indianapolis public school bus service has long been problematic and one township not long ago refused to provide bus service to public schools which created numerous problems for students, parents and the Indianapolis Police Department who were forced to provide traffic control around their schools. The Superintendent of Public Education, Eugene White, readily admitted they had opted for the cheapest bus service available which frequently presented safety issues for students. Indianapolis Public Schools has been problematic long before the voucher system was enacted; it has worsened at an escalate rate since this became an issue.

    How many other voucher systems in other cities and states have been faced with the same problems as numbers of voucher students increases and public education tax bases are being depleted and losing qualified teachers? The “Dumbing Down of America” is continuing to be a success under Republicans. How much has the lack of teaching civics and cursive handwriting saved the education system to aid in providing more voucher students whose education is not improved by this system?

  5. How many children do those families have? My brother and his wife make more than $100,000 but they have five kids, so they are not living in a downtown penthouse.

  6. The only purpose was to segregate the whites from the browns and help pay for the private education of primarily white upper-class students.

    I believe the studies coming in across the country are all going to find the point of the voucher system was nothing more than a constitutional workaround for resegregating schools and repaying a religious base for their firm political support.

    There are more profound ways to hurt the teachers union than vouchers.

    While I support teachers having unions, if the rest of the working class is not unionized and does not receive those benefits, there will be a lack of empathy for teachers.

    For instance, social workers and mental health workers get paid much less than teachers and they work year round. What about the workers in retail and other service industries? Do they deserve to make less than teachers? If so, how much less?

    When there are some workers receiving socialism while other workers are told to drudge under capitalism and depressed wages, there will be problems.

    This is why a planned economy is the only solution and until we start working for economic justice, the divide and conquer strategies employed by Oligarchs will be very effective.

    As for hurting the teachers union, Ed-Tech will probably be the most damaging to public schools and institutions of higher learning. It’s coming very soon and will be VERY disruptive. 😉

  7. The subterfuge used to get around the state Constitution’s prohibition of funding religion was that the money went to the parents, not to the schools. And, unfortunately, the tame justices in the State Supreme Court bought that nonsense. But then, those justices do just about whatever the legislature wants them to do. Remember the amendment that granted legislators a raise that was tacked onto a bill that had nothing to do with salaries for anyone? Someone sued, because the Constitution says a bill can deal only with one issue. Well, the Supreme Court ignored that and said the bill was not unconstitutional. If the justices had not done that, they knew the legislators would never approve a raise for them, either.

  8. seems like sandman,aka, covington christian maga kid,who feels delighted at slighting Native Americans will seek suit to CNN for repoting the news,as they wrote it. if this is a ploy to turn his smirk into a back alley lawsuit,then maybe we should be questioning christians for thier right to sue over a spotlight their little darlings make. if covington and sandman were to practice democray,instead of back alley law suits,this country would be better off, but then again,if the school he attends,had civics classes to reconize extremism, and practice citizenship,(as i was required) this would never have happend. is this school allowed vouchers? with maga hats for uniform? on school trips?and are we suporting a education at any,school,to allow kids to become extremists at any age? seems the teachers and parents are teaching,,,hate..

  9. Your last paragraph, copied below, says it all……..

    The Department of Education’s report should be a wake-up call for Indiana’s lawmakers, but then, this is gerrymandered Indiana, where rural voters call the shots….and those elected to safe seats in the General Assembly feel free to prioritize their ideologies over the will of the voters.

    *This is also why so many Hoosiers feel that there is no reason to vote. They don’t have any choices at the voting booth because the gop has made sure that there will be no choices in most areas of the state.

  10. But, but, but, . . . doesn’t everybody know that Republicans operate on the principle that the rich still don’t have enough money, and that their kids should not have to go to school with anybody even just a little bit different than they are?

  11. Todd –
    Good point about a lack of empathy for teachers when the rest of the workers must work year round without unionized benefits.

    I used to get very tired of hearing teachers complain about having to occasionally work an extra hour or two in an evening when they already had much shorter days than the rest of us and enjoyed summers off, spring break, and two weeks at Christmas. Locally, they also enjoyed much better health insurance and retirement plans than those of us employed in the private sector. However, the retirement plans for teachers hired in the past fifteen years is not as lucrative as for those in the past. Budget restrictions could no longer afford to support them.

  12. Pascal de Caprariis @ 8:28 am > “The subterfuge used to get around the state Constitution’s prohibition of funding religion was that the money went to the parents, not to the schools.”

    I know of know no other tax collected by the Government that allows the individual to make a choice of where the taxes collected are spent. The individual tax payer cannot select which Pentagon weapon system they will fund.

    This was so obvious a ploy, a scam to fund the bible thumper’s schools. It is nauseating to the extreme to think that some creationism crap is being taught in the schools, funded by public tax dollars.

  13. Greetings Nancy. What has changed your view about teacher’s short work day and extended vacations. I am a retired Indianapolis high school teacher.My work day started at 7:30 a.m.and ended at 3:30 p.m.I taught 5 classes and supervised a studyhall or a lunch hour every day. I had papers to grade 5 nights a week. That left me with a Saturday to do my Master’s Degree work. And that continued until I had obtained my Master Degree, required by Ind. law. And if I would be teaching today, my professional learning is never ending. And none of this took place until I had finished my Bachelor’s degree at my own expense. If you want a better job, prepare yourself. Irvin Korean Vet. College Grad. retired teacher


  14. Hi Irvin,
    I can’t say that my views have changed about teachers in the local rural school system. I just no longer hear them complain since my children graduated long ago.

    Here is a recent example of what I consider abuse of a benefit package that is better than than anything available to people in the private sector. Last summer a local elementary school teacher who I had always respected needed a knee replacement. Instead of having it done during the summer when she had more than the physician prescribed time for recovery, she chose to have the surgery in October and use two months worth of sick days during the school year. In my opinion that was both selfish and an abuse of the system. She chose to ignore giving the students the benefit of her years of teaching knowledge. Those students were robbed and who knows how much it cost them by having a substitute for that long?

    I am a college graduate and have never enjoyed the benefits that public sector employees have. PTO is the name of the fame for most of us. That means vacation, sick time, etc all rolled into one. As salaried employees we have always been expected to work nine to ten hour days. I have been downsized three times and each successive position was at a lower level for less pay. This has happened to millions of us in this country, so hopefully you can understand our lack of empathy.

    This was typed on my phone so hope there weren’t too many typos.

  15. Thank you Sheila and Doug Masson too, for taking a strong stand against school vouchers. This policy is as bad as anything that has existed in the history of Indiana and those that created and supported vouchers will be seen as the racists and bigots that they are.

  16. The purpose of Public Schools was remote democracy and patriotism. The purpose of parochial schools is to promote their religious views. I have never supported the idea that public money should be used to support religious education. This precedent will come back to haunt voucher advocates, I assure you.

  17. There is one more reason vouchers were enacted. Legislative sponsors had their own children in private schools and wanted taxpayer assistance to fund their children’s private school tuition. One of the sponsors served on the fund-raising committee of his child’s parochial school. These were legislators who lamented poor people feeding at the public trough for necessities like food and housing. Apparently it was okay for people of means to do so for a private school education when a wide variety of public school choices – including across school district boundaries – was already available to them. Those same legislators voted to eliminate the requirement that voucher seekers must go to public school at least a year before applying for private school vouchers.

  18. When I see who Pence has aligned himself with I wouldn’t give him a pass on racial segregation as a possible motive

  19. Many of us assume that slavery was free but that’s not true. The slaves had to be purchased and maintained like any livestock.

    In fact arguably its cheaper now when people are paid minimum wage and no benefits.

    The problem of course is to keep them down on the farm they need to be uneducated and the women often pregnant, two things that accompany poverty but a little systemic encouragement helps too.

    That’s our system. Vouchers are a part of it and by keeping defacto slavery alive that way many people also get their religion kept alive too, a twofer.

  20. To Nancy and those who envy school teachers; they had a union and that is how they obtained what was a competitive benefit package and working conditions. Don’t you see how they want us to envy each other. Doing so allows them to rake all the chips. Our ALEC controlled law makers will not be happy until unions do not exist and economic slavery gradually reasserts itself. Your envy plays into their hands.

    To repeat from yesterday, there is not such thing as a free market. Buyer and seller are never equally knowledgeable about a transaction.

  21. Nancy,
    Not sure when you last worked in a public school but a lot has changed since the 1950s. After 40+ years, the length of my day, week got longer and longer every year. A highly effective teacher (State terminology not mine) works more than an 8 hour day on campus and a few hours every night doing everything from grading, recording, planning, e-learning, and emailing parents, unless you spend the evening doing it from your classroom. Those free weekends and vacations where often spent working on continuing ed or finishing report cards for the end of a grading period. But perhaps the one thing you missed is the over whelming worry about the poor in my classrooms who have little resources to climb out of poverty without that caring educator. You might want to fact check your comments with some of us and be surprised at how erroneous they are.

  22. I highly recommend Tim Carney’s “Alienated America”. You might just find that the securalarization of society brought your worst nightmare, Trump. Carney (and I) also believe in Subsidiarity over Centralization, so state vouchers aren’t really the answer either.

    If you don’t take the word of conservative libertarians, maybe Peter Beinart will get you on the righteous path:

  23. Beth,
    I never worked in a school system anywhere. I only know about the rural school system that I grew up in and where my children also attended and where I still pay property taxes. I do not know what takes place in other school systems and never claimed to.

    What I am aware of is that in my school system the teachers’ work days have not increased in length like you mentioned. Apparently our rural school system still has enough funding to employ aides and other staff to help. Some teachers do complain about spending time in the evening grading papers. However, they never complain about the massive amount of time off they get. They get vacation days in addition to the summer, spring and Christmas breaks. Maybe the teachers in my local system have enjoyed a much better employment opportunity than other systems offer. Did I mention that I was shocked to find out several years ago that we taxpayers supplied them with not one, but two retirement plans? Yes, two! In addition, they were also offered the opportunity to invest in a third one themselves.

  24. Just to be clear – I am completely against vouchers and being forced to financially support the religious education of children. It clearly violates the separation of church and state.

  25. Greetings again Nancy. Did you read my remarks earlier?You speak of vacations time off for teachers. There is no such thing for teachers. I had a contract for a set amount of money. There is no such thing as a paid vacation for teachers. It is time off without pay. A teacher adjusted her/his contract pay to cover those days off. You also seem to ignore my statement about the ongoing requirement for continued training. A cost that the teacher paid. And unless you have never been in a class room to endure the negative learning attitude of many of the students, you have no idea of what a teacher endures for the pay they receive! And regarding the teacher who needed knee surgery, all you know are the facts as you see them. You have no knowledge of surrounding facts experienced by that person. All you could see was someone exploiting the system. Have a pleasant evening. Irvin Korean War Vet. B.S. & M.A. Retired 🙂

  26. Nancy, teachers don’t get paid vacation anywhere. The contract is for a 180-day school year plus required time for professional development (where teachers almost never get any choice about the nature or timing of that, unlike other professionals), plus required time before, after, during, and around the school year and school day for staff meetings and classroom setup/tear down, plus oh don’t talk to me about time spent preparing lessons and checking homework and dealing with kids’ and parents’ personal needs. You work until the school year is done, and if that takes an extra couple of weeks into June because of snow days, that’s your problem. As with most salaried professionals, you work until your work is done, and if that takes 18 hours a day in reality, that’s your problem.

    Now, in order to provide some level of income predictability and stability, teachers aren’t paid week by week (Christmas would probably be pretty sad for many teachers if they were paid week by week, eh?). In some places, they are paid across the school year, with their total annual pay being split into ten equal months or whatever. In some places, they have the option of spreading out their pay into more pay periods so that they don’t have a two-month period over the summer where they get no income at all. I’m not sure if every district even gives the option; some may require it. However, doing that amounts to giving the school district a no-interest loan of their deferred income… it’s essentially a tax on “I’m not sure I can remember to personally sequester enough of my income during the school year to be able to pay my expenses for the summer.”

    I’ve been a teacher, and I have good friends and relatives who are still teachers. The constant canard that they get “all this paid vacation” is nonsensical and insulting.

  27. Irving,
    I did read your remarks, hence my response.

    My school system actually gives teachers vacation days that they can take when school is in session. These days are in addition to the scheduled school breaks. So, yes, my school system actually does provide Vacation Days for teachers and that is what they are called.

    They also are given a very generous amount of Sick Days. That is something that has not existed for most of us in the private sector for almost three decades. When they do retire they can opt to be paid for any unused sick days as if they were owed those days no matter what.

    As for ongoing requirement for continued training, my school system no longer requires teachers to cover this at their own expense. Teachers were able to get that changed many years ago.

    Regarding the negative learning attitude of students – I volunteered in classrooms when my children were little. That was fine. I also substitute taught for awhile. That was awful. I would have been fired if I had to be a full time teacher because I would not have taken crap from the kids. When I substituted some of the boys were shocked that I refused to tolerate the crap that they usually handed out to substitutes. I had no problem personally walking them to the principal’s office. Anyway, I understand the attitude thing is tough.

    Regarding the Facts as I saw them for the teacher who needed knee surgery. Here is my Knowledge and the Facts:
    I was speaking to her on the phone about something else in April of last year. She informed me that she needed knee replacement surgery, but was going to put it off until October because she didn’t want to give up her summer off for recovery from surgery. Since she had well over 200 days of sick time to use she was going to have the surgery in October and then by the time she would be scheduled to go back to work it would be time for Christmas break and she could give herself a 3 month vacation from school.

    Do you see how I viewed that as someone exploiting the system? Not only did she rob her students of her expertise but she also added to the system’s expenses with the addition of a fulltime substitute for her class when her “illness” was not an emergency and could have been taken care of back in the summer.

    Now, of course, this is the viewpoint of someone who has never enjoyed this kind of time off from a job and has never had the benefits that a teacher has either. That includes a pension, vacations, sick pay, etc.. 401K and PTO are all that I have ever had and as someone mentioned yesterday, it is hard to support and pay for a fabulous benefit package for others when you will never have the opportunity for that for yourself. The teachers in my school system also are well paid.

    Apparently the teachers in my school system have it much better than the teachers in other school systems around the state.

  28. Aimie – please read my response this morning to Irving regarding the facts for my rural school system.

  29. This conversation is fascinating to me. As a former teacher and active member of the teachers’ union for almost 20 years, I have yet to be able to bridge the divide between the public perception versus the teacher reality of public school teaching in the US. I think historically, the issue is rooted in teaching being primarily an unmarried female occupation in which one’s entire life was committed to the school and community. Typically, a carefully controlled environment in which values, morals, and expectations were upheld, including racial, gender, and religious segregation. In a post-industrial modern society, those expectations continue to exist, although are not explicitly stated, so are implicit in policy and education reform movements. Another factor of course, is the tremendous cost of providing an education which meets the academic, social, emotional, physical, and personal needs of all genders, races, and religions. Public education has become prime real estate for entrepreneurs who may or may not have the best interest of students in mind.

    And I continue to believe teachers without children are able to emotionally engage at a level that is higher than teachers with children. I hope not to gather ire nor ill will with this comment. It is merely my opinion based in my experiences. And this is where the conversation must become about the emotional investment required to be a ‘highly qualified teacher’ in modern times. I began my teaching career married, childless and dedicated to the ideal that education changes lives and spent countless hours, including weekends to that end. I ended my teaching career married with two children (whom I planned carefully to avoid taking time off, I delivered my second child at home). I am acutely aware of the judgment doled out to the ‘teacher calendar’ and have endured painful remarks by family members, friends, strangers, even my husband regarding ‘time off’. I am required to be well read, well clothed, respectable, relatable, well spoken, well written and well shoed. While at the same time, knowing that others think teachers are not worthy of the pay received. If I might, this is where one must recognize that the academic calendar was designed to meet the needs of family and provide children a break from the ‘stress’ of learning, it is an intense emotional and cognitive process. For the first ten years of my teaching career (to make ends meet and pay off my student loans). I worked evenings and weekends as a waitress, and Nancy is correct, the benefits and wages do not compare to the union supported working conditions. But, I can also categorically say, there is no comparison to the emotional energy necessary to work in retail/service versus teaching. Nancy even said, she would get fired for not being able to stay ’emotionally-controlled.’

    Can we just admit that not all people are able to teach? And good teachers develop over time with experience and wisdom and at some point earned their keep? Maintaining working conditions and supporting teachers in what I know is a very demanding profession makes so much sense to me. But, at the same time, Nancy’s story is the most oft-repeated. The scourge on society that teachers with knee problems and vacation days bring. I don’t know Nancy nor this teacher, but I can’t imagine teaching for an entire year in physical pain, possibly making it a worse year for my students, then taking the time off needed to get better, so the students can benefit from an entire semester of a healthy teacher. But, I also know that is the expectation and anything less is viewed as selfish. You only have to work 9 months, so your life better only happen when school is not in session. Cancer, do it in the summer time. Babies, really?

    The joy I feel at no longer having to deal with this day to day dichotomy is greater than one can imagine. The economic advantage is not always worth the emotional toll.

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