Vouchers, Discrimination And Corruption

Indiana has the largest, most costly school voucher program in the country.

How wasteful/counterproductive is our state’s largesse to private (mostly religious) schools? Let me count the ways: the promised improvement in student achievement did not materialize; badly-needed funds have been diverted from the public schools that most Hoosier children still attend; taxpayers are subsidizing discrimination (schools getting millions of dollars are discharging teachers and counselors for the “sin” of being in same-sex marriages); and there are no requirements that recipients of vouchers teach civics.

Now we also find that the lack of oversight has facilitated a massive rip off of Hoosier taxpayers. Doug Masson has written the best summary of that problem.

The joke is that dead people vote in Chicago. Apparently they go to school in Indiana. Stephanie Wang, reporting for Chalkbeat Indiana, has an article about the Indiana Virtual School and Indiana Virtual Pathway Academy which, among a number of other abuses, kept a dead kid on their claims for state money for two years after he died.

Five years after two students moved to Florida, they reappeared on enrollment records for Indiana Virtual School and its sister school.

And nearly every one of the more than 900 students kicked out of Indiana Virtual School and its sister school in the 2017-18 school year for being inactive were re-enrolled the next school year, included in per-pupil funding calculations that netted the two online schools more than $34 million in public dollars last year.

These were among the ways that Indiana Virtual School and Indiana Virtual Pathways Academy allegedly inflated their enrollment to at least twice its actual size, according to the findings of a state examiner’s investigation released Monday.

As Doug points out, heads would roll if it was discovered that a public school was manipulating its Average Daily Membership (ADM).

The virtual school superintendent responded by reminding everyone that these weren’t great students and also freedom.

In a written response to the state education board, Clark did not address the enrollment discrepancies but defended the online schools for serving “last-chance students” who have dropped out of or been expelled from traditional public schools — even if they weren’t active.

He accused state education officials of trying “to remove educational choice and force students to remain in school environments in which success has evaded them and where hope has abandoned them.”

“The beacon of hope has just been doused,” Clark concluded.

Doug’s response to this asinine defense was a perfect bit of snark: “Also, I’d add that if you make public money for voucher schools contingent on providing actual services to actual students, then the terrorists win. Obviously.”

Initially, many people who favored vouchers truly believed that such programs would “rescue” poor children trapped in failing schools. (In true American style, it didn’t occur to most of them to advocate fixing those schools.) They pointed to better outcomes in private schools, conveniently overlooking sociological differences between families sending children to private schools and others. (Studies controlling for those differences found no statistically significant differences.)

However well-meaning those initial supporters were, the evidence is in: in addition to the consequences enumerated above, vouchers are yet another wedge between America’s tribes, separating children of different religions (and in many places, races, as their use increasingly re-segregates school populations) from each other.

In addition to providing academic instruction, public schools serve as a “street corner” for children from different backgrounds. Given residential segregation based on income, that street corner is admittedly imperfect, but it nevertheless fosters more civic integration than the religious institutions that separate the theologically acceptable from the “others.”

Let’s face the facts: vouchers were a (very clever) “work around” allowing tax dollars to flow to religious schools despite the Establishment Clause–part of the continuing fundamentalist assault on separation of church and state.

And they haven’t even improved children’s education.


  1. It’s all about the money and the fact that public education has been devalued.

  2. The justification given by the guy at the IVS makes no sense. If the kids his organization was created to serve have dropped out of the traditional schools, that would suggest they have no interest in education. So why would the commit the time needed to do on-line courses? As someone who created an on-line college course, and taught it for several years, I learned quickly that I had to monitor closely what the students were doing. That is easy when everything they do is done by email, so I could archive it all. If the people at IVS were not aware of how little their students were doing, they have no business pretending to teach anyone. If they were aware of how little their students were doing, they were committing fraud by taking the state’s money. The whole thing stinks.

  3. It was always about the money and segregation. Period.

    IVS is straight-up fraud.

    All the other excuses were for their base. It was a workaround to allow white kids to go to religious schools and suburbs/county schools.

    When Anderson closed Highland, their kids went to Daleville instead of AHS where “trouble-kids” went to school. I also believe Daleville was the oversight school for IVS.

    Somebody(ies) need jail time.

  4. What I see here is the most basic of Conservative/Republican responses. When they see a problem, they find a way to make money off of it. There is not one single problem facing us that the greediest of this country have not “solved” by creating a solution that can be turned into a money pit. And if they can give their own white class an advantage in doing so, why of course!

  5. Church schools are on the way of most churches and that is towards obsolescence. That’s just one of the inevitable ways the future will be unlike the past. Public funding to subsidize the fact that those who will miss them don’t want to pay the full cost of what they want to keep is a last ditch effort to stave off the inevitable.

    This is the story of now. Republicans are fighting for subsidizing the past that entitled them, and Democrats are fighting for preparing for the inevitable future.

    Of course inevitable, sustainable, will ultimately win so the only question is how close to bankrupting society will Republicans lead us before they too go obsolete?

  6. Theresa,

    Perfect analysis. In my book, “A Worm in the Apple: The Inside Story of Public Schools”, I discuss this farce of voucher systems at length. Even Bush’s “No Child Left Behind” czar quit and published data that showed that private/voucher schools did no better than public schools in producing better test scores. That was in the early 2000s.

    Todd is right about Republicans bilking the taxpayer for their racist and overtly capitalist philosophy of “father knows best” and private, money makers are always better. Thomas Jefferson got it right about public education. No wonder idiots like Betsy DeVos wants Jefferson expunged from textbooks. He was onto their game before they had a game.

  7. Theresa, make more money now regardless of the impact of all others ever motivates monetize everything. One purpose of course is to insure a slavish labor market of people desperate to pay off the debt so created in order to serve investors.

  8. It’s as though Brown v. Board didn’t happen, though one could argue the obverse, that Brown is what activated racism in education under a different set of covers. It’s also as though John Dewey didn’t note the importance of the social element of education in his monographs. Public education (and the teaching of civics) should be the sole recipient of public funding.

    As an aside, I ran across Nancy Papas yesterday at the Simon mansion in Indianapolis at a Birch Bayh book signing fete and found she is as gracious personally as she is insightful and on the mark in her contributions to this blog. Continue to elucidate us, Nancy.

  9. Todd is right: “It was always about the money and segregation. Period.”

    Theresa is also right: “What I see here is the most basic of Conservative/Republican responses. When they see a problem, they find a way to make money off of it.”

    It was absolutely vital that the Republicans had to find a way to subsidize church schools that could not make it financially. The church schools while they take tax dollars, through a money laundering scheme – the taxes follow the child – are free to discriminate and teach Bronze Age Mythology as fact from their bibles.

  10. This state of affairs only fails to make sense when you assume that legislation should benefit the common good and increase the strength of a democracy and the persons in it. It falls in line with laws that make health care inaccessible, decrease infrastructure spending, increase pollution and enable guns in public spaces, all of which increase the death rate and human misery in general. If people can be persuaded to believe that they are somehow depriving folks who they deem unworthy, that is fine with them. Reminds me of people fighting to the death in quicksand.

  11. I’ve always understood online high schools as a way to get rid of kids who don’t fit into the usual mainstream with euphemisms that make the alternative sound better. Instead of recognizing their need for more structure and support, working with them more closely, the schools give them a system with no virtually no human contact and the line that they can work at their own pace. That usually translates as “no pace at all” while the schools can claim that they offered a “program”.

  12. There are rotten apples, and I agree that you are subsidizing discrimination by supporting religious schools, but there are some good players out there. Irvington Community Schools is revitalizing and entire neighborhood by giving Irvington sorely needed choices for education. The Oaks Academy is a shining example of why Fall Creek place is attracting young families to mid-town Indianapolis. Parts of IPS need to be pruned and I feel sorry for the kids and families that are too poor or don’t care that they are trapped in a failing system, but it was failing before they started loosing funding to charter schools.

  13. Doesn’t the DeVos debacle all come down to the “God” thing? Religion today allows the most ignorant and ill-intentioned among us to claim an intimate relationship with an imaginary specter with whom they have daily conversations and from whom they learn ultimate truths. Since no criticism of their “faith” is acceptable, regardless of their level of hypocrisy, they then proceed to tell the rest of us how to live our lives. There are many great religious people, but there are no religions left whose morality is superior to that of President Pea Brain. As long as the worst among us are legitimately allowed to make up their cosmology, the rest will suffer from the falsehoods and lies that ensue. As you slide down the epistemological slippery slope, you become more and more deluded until you crash into the reality Steven Covey warned about.

    That is where Betsy, who got her job thanks to Mike Pence, comes in. Who knew that her goal of “advancing God’s kingdom” could be achieved by voucher programs designed to deplete public resources while enriching capitalists by taking funding away from private schools? And how serendipitous that her goal should coincide perfectly with that of the Republican Party. If you ignore the fact that she and her husband were fined $5.2 for laundering charitable money via a PAC fund, you might almost think she was serious about improving education. But she’s not. She has destroyed the education system of Detroit, and hopes to make a broader impact. She brags about achieving higher graduation rates, and her lie is off by 50%. Betsy’s family owns ten yachts, thereby proving (to them) that they are wiser than the rest of us. When religious fanatics are assigned positions of power, things inevitably degenerate into hell on earth.

  14. There has never been a statistical display of how religious voucher schools have surpassed the regular public schools in student performance. That is because it does not exist. The real demonstration of why religious voucher schools have students was shown in Ft. Wayne. Parents were asked why they took their children out of higher rated schools and placed them in lower rated religious voucher schools. The answer was that they wanted their children to have a religious school experience. The bottom line is that certain legislators and the governor are supporting transferring our tax dollars to religious institutions.

  15. “It’s also as though John Dewey didn’t note the importance of the social element of education in his monographs.”

    Don’t get me started on Dewey. His main emphasis was “Learn by doing”, which required he (and all of us who thoughtlessly accept his thesis) devalue Learning by reading. Dewey wrongly discounted vicarious experience, the kind of experience one gets by reading about other people’s experience, his advocacy being the primary engine of America’s decline in reading.

    Dewey adherents need to learn that vicarious experience is usually almost as good as raw experience in terms of learning, and sometimes vicarious experience is superior to raw experience. For instance, I’ve visited Mexico nearly 100 times, and was attentive to its uniqueness, but those 100 raw experiences have been minor learning experiences compared to reading “Some Rise By Sin” by Philip Caputo.

    John Dewey is one of the main challengers to Benjamin Spock (and his baby book) for the title of Antichrist.

  16. Gerald Stinson – Thank you for the lovely compliments. It was so nice to meet you and to put your name and face together.

    Thank you too for your contributions to Sheila’s blog and for promoting that Birch Bayh biography. He was working to make a difference in nearly every paragraph. And bless him – he voted against voucher schemes time after time in the Senate.

  17. Yeah; lets make parents who want their kids to actually get a decent education and not be subjected to liberal indoctrination from the unionized, education arm of the Democrat party pay twice for their kids’ educations. Once in taxes on higher than average incomes and once to the private schools that give superior educations for less cost per student.

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