School Scandal

I recently had a disquieting conversation with a friend of mine about the political perspectives of certain college students. She teaches as an adjunct at my former university, and noted recent conversations with students who were expressing opinions that could only be described as  examples of Christian Nationalism. 

She also noted that these sentiments almost always came from students who had come to the university from private Christian schools–many of them thanks to Indiana’s massive voucher program.

There are plenty of reasons to criticize that program, and I have done so repeatedly–in just 2021, I explained its dangers  here, here and here.

The voucher program in Indiana has not only failed to improve educational outcomes, it has funneled money primarily to religious schools, allowing many of those institutions to produce students who are–at best–unacquainted with democratic diversity and unaccepting of Americans with different values and beliefs. At worst, they teach students to disdain Americans who don’t share their fundamentalist dogmas.

Steve Hinnefeld’s blog, School Matters, recently reported on the massive growth of Indiana’s voucher program, and its staggering costs.

Indiana awarded $241.4 million in the 2021-22 school year to pay tuition and fees for students to attend private schools. That’s 44% more than the state spent on vouchers the previous year.

The increase, detailed in a Department of Education report, isn’t surprising. The Indiana General Assembly in 2021 vastly expanded the voucher program, opening it to families near the top of the state’s income scale and making the vouchers significantly more generous.

Nearly all the 330 private schools that received voucher funding are religious schools. Some discriminate against students, families and employees because of their religion, disability status, sexual orientation or gender identity. Indiana is bankrolling bigotry.

Initially, vouchers were sold to the public as a way to allow poor, primarily minority children to escape failing public schools. Perhaps that was the goal of a few proponents, but it is now evident that the primary goal was to construct a “work-around” of the First Amendment’s prohibition on publicly funding religious institutions–Hinnefeld reports that some 20% of voucher households last year had incomes of $100,000 or more. (Indiana’s median household income is $58,000.)

When the program started, supporters said it wouldn’t cost anything, because, if the students didn’t have vouchers, the state would be paying for them to attend public schools. They don’t even pretend to believe that anymore. In 2021-22, 70% of voucher students had no record of having attended a public school in the state. Most voucher funding is going to families that intended all along to send their kids to private schools — and often had the means to do so.

The program initially served both low- and middle-income families. Last year, the legislature threw the door open to high-income families. Now, a family of five making $172,000 can receive vouchers worth over $5,400 on average per child. For about half of all voucher students, the award covers the full cost of tuition and fees at their private school.

Vouchers also promote racial segregation. Far from being a way for poor Black families to escape inferior “ghetto” schools, Hinnefeld reports that  Indiana’s voucher population has grown whiter and markedly less poor–some 60% of voucher students are white. Considering that vouchers tend to be practical primarily in urban areas, that is an over-representation. Only 10.5% of voucher students are Black, compared to 13.5% of Indiana public and charter school students.

The program might still seem justifiable if Indiana private schools were academically superior. They aren’t. Researchers at the universities of Kentucky and Notre Dame found that students who received vouchers fell behind their peers who remained in public schools.

Hinnefeld quotes Doug Masson, who insists that there were three real reasons Indiana legislators created the voucher program: to reward their friends, to punish the teachers’ unions, and to fund religious education.

And that “religious education” is overwhelmingly fundamentalist and nationalist. A study I referenced in one of my previous posts analyzed textbooks from two major publishers of Christian educational materials ― Abeka and BJU Press–used in a majority of Christian schools. The study examined  the books’ coverage of American history and politics and found that they delivered what you might call a “curated”(i.e. skewed) history, and taught that contemporary America is experiencing “an urgent moral decline that can only be fixed by conservative Christian policies.”

Even more troubling, the analysis found that language used in the books “overlaps with the rhetoric of Christian nationalism, often with overtones of nativism, militarism and racism as well.” One scholar was quoted as saying that, as voucher programs have moved more children into these schools, Christian Nationalism has become more mainstream.

Your tax dollars at work……there’s a reason I call Indiana’s General Assembly the World’s Worst Legislature.


  1. How can Indiana be the world’s worst legislation when it delivers: “Hinnefeld quotes Doug Masson, who insists that there were three real reasons Indiana legislators created the voucher program: to reward their friends, to punish the teachers’ unions, and to fund religious education.”

    Scalia is still clamoring in his grave about no signs of “quid pro quo” anywhere in site…

  2. And guess what?

    As the vouchers increase, so do your property taxes! So, many who can’t afford it, are paying for those vouchers to some of the wealthier folks in the community.

    The local public school districts usually have the right for taxation, and when they reach a point where shortfalls affect the functioning of public schools, they raise the taxes!

    Eventually, there has to be a breaking point. Either they will dismantle the public school system all together, or, they will stop funding private religious schools with public money!

    A lot of this is taxation without representation. Individuals with no children in the game are being soaked for tuition expenses on both sides. Usually, it ends up being the elderly and the retired.

  3. By the way, what happens when taxes become unbearable? Well, for the elderly and retired, the local county Treasury department will inform individuals to sell, or their properties will be confiscated for back taxes. The good old American dream? Dream for who?

  4. Stonekettle Station had a good tweet yesterday” to paraphrase: Time to call these “Christian Nationalist” who have taken over the GOP and are trying to destroy our republican form of governance Nationalist Christians, Nat C for short. say it quickly, “Nat C”. It should have an alarming ring to it if you are paying attention…..

  5. And the US continues on a destructive course hell bent on destroying democracy.

  6. It really didn’t take much foresight to see the intent of the voucher system —I saw it from the get-go. First bemoan the poor quality of public schools, then defund them and make it a reality. In the process, you get rid of that pesky church/state issue and use tax dollars to truly indoctrinate children. While I no longer have school age children, I have no problem with my tax dollars going to support good *public* schools: it’s one of the keys to increasing and maintaining property values. But vouchers? NOT how I want my tax dollars spent! If only I could get a refund…

  7. “The voucher program in Indiana has not only failed to improve educational outcomes, it has funneled money primarily to religious schools, allowing many of those institutions to produce students who are–at best–unacquainted with democratic diversity and unaccepting of Americans with different values and beliefs. At worst, they teach students to disdain Americans who don’t share their fundamentalist dogmas.” This paragraph should have been printed in all capitol letters.

    Voucher students in Catholic schools, no matter their religious preference, are REQUIRED to participate in the Catholic (Catechism?) classes but not required to participate in prayers. The basis of Catholic religion teaches sexism and racism from the beginning of their children’s lives; they are indoctrinated almost from birth; voucher students coming from other denominations are brainwashed at later ages. Is this the choice of any of the students or all decided by Republican parents? One religious based foundation the Catholic religion has in common with Latter Day Saints (Mormons) is that they go to any length and pay any price to keep secret their innermost negative actions which can be documented. Is any portion of voucher payments being used for this purpose? Just last evening I again watched the movie, “Spotlight”, about the Boston Globe newspaper’s 2012 lengthy reports of the Catholic Diocese covering up hundreds of priests molesting more than 1,000 children in Boston alone. Millions and millions of dollars are spent to keep this within the church and to pay for cover ups. The movie ended with page after page of major cities throughout the world involved in these cover ups; Indianapolis was listed on the first page. The reported cases are kept within the local Diocese, never reported to police as the criminal acts they are. You cannot separate this from the forced education which is now being paid for with tax dollars drained from the public education budgets throughout this county. If nothing else; public school systems promote open-minded thinking to all students without teaching against religious choice. If Bible classes are introduced into the public education curriculum they become religious education schools…which is the result the current Republican White Nationalist foundation is aiming for.

  8. So there are two choices. Vote them out or sit back and watch. Which will it be?

  9. I attended a meeting Wednesday where a consultant presented our county’s newly drafted “comprehensive plan”, a beautiful document that cost taxpayers $200K and will be ignored by elected and appointed officials for the next 10 years until they decide the County needs a new comprehensive plan.

    Anyway, an Amish farmer raised his hand to speak and said with no irony in his voice that he did not think it fair that he had to pay property taxes that paid for schools, fire departments, roads, libraries and about everything else the government spent money on. He was upset that the property taxes on his farm ground had been going up. Never mind that it’s based on a formula that includes as variables the market value of farm ground (up, up, up) and commodities (also up) that generates values FAR lower than residential or commercial land assessments.

    But he’s not a loner. Many farmers and business owners (especially those with a staff of 1 and accept only cash) feel they should be able to opt out of ALL their civic obligations, including payment for taxes that fund NOT only the things they DON’T use but also the things they DO use!

    It would not surprise me in the least that if this faux-libertarian mindset keeps spreading, certain segments of the population will be exempted from the property taxes that fund the three headed monster known as K-12 education – public, charter and private schools (usually about half your bill).

    And, of course, farmers will be at the front of the line. If so I guess I’ll be 2nd in line as a Senior.

  10. Texas has the worst General Assembly and World’s Worst Legislature. that being said, my school district in Elwood loses 14% of their students to other public school districts. Public schools need to clean up their act before they attack charter schools. I am sure this goes on in many small towns in Indiana the parents want their kids to go to better public schools.

  11. How did the legislature craft the voucher program to allow public funds to be spent at religious schools? Isn’t it contrary to the constitution?

  12. AND….God bless Steve Hinnefeld for watchdogging the scoundrels in Indianapolis and their K-12-privatization sugar daddies.

  13. ” . . . there were three real reasons Indiana legislators created the voucher program: to reward their friends, to punish the teachers’ unions, and to fund religious education.” I’d like to add one more reason, to avoid integration. In Tennessee, people bused students twenty miles or more in order to avoid putting their child on a bus to an integrated school.

  14. daleb; it is contrary to the U.S. Constitution and the Indiana Constitution. They state that the voucher money goes to the parents; IT DOES NOT. The money goes directly to the schools of course. The Indiana Legislature lied to craft the voucher program.

  15. Everybody thinks their state legislature is the “worst.”

    Why do we have to suggest improper motives to everyone who advocates or takes advantage of a policy change such as vouchers? It is an undeniable fact that a lot of people were not happy with their K-12 traditional public school education options and were looking for other options. The voucher program is one of those. So too are public charter schools. So too is allowing parents to choose among traditional public schools and not being locked into a school district which gave parents no option on K-12 public education for their children

    As someone who spent 25 years or so teaching at the college level, before many of these reforms, I can attest to how poorly our K-12 public system was educating kids is in this state. Prior to these reforms, we had been increasing public school funding well above the inflation for decades and the schools had just gotten worse every year.

    Some people have a problem with the voucher program because they think that is public funding of religion. But what about post-secondary educations? You are allowed to use public grants and government backed student loans to attend religious colleges and universities. Why aren’t they complaining about that?

    Do people on here really want to go back to the olden days when poor and middle class parents had no options for K-12 education but one failing public school? Try taking away those options and see how voters react. It won’t be pretty. Our legislature has gotten a lot wrong, but the education reform measures they’ve enacted the last 20 years have been a great improvement.

  16. Todd and Bill are correct. In the infamous memorandum to the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, then corporate lawyer, Lewis Powell called upon corporate America to fund schools that taught the dogma of profit over people and greed over common sense. You can look it up. Then, of course, Richard Nixon appointed Powell to the SCOTUS. Charles and David Koch followed those instructions and created chairmanships and various, compliant colleges and universities as well as funding political candidates who would favor these seditious voucher systems.

    This is what we get when we put Republicans in office. They are dedicated to destroying democracy at ever turn. As Hitler tried to do with the “Junge Deutsch” programs, Republicans continue to create and develop their own brainwashing projects. The churches, of course, will do and say anything too to get these funds.

    Quality education? My left foot…

  17. Bill,

    Have you ever been to a religious K-12 school or a charter school? They are about as far from being segregated as schools can be. In fact, some studies show they have a higher percent of minorities than traditional public schools.

    Years ago, I had a conservative political acquaintance (she’s since passed away) who was very involved in education issues. She like most people on here was 100% against school choice, including options such as vouchers and charter schools. Why? She was fearful that they would lead to more integration of public education. She wanted poor African-American parents to be locked into their failing local public school which were almost predominantly black. She thought vouchers and charter schools would give those parents options, which previously had been limited to wealthy parents who not coincidentally were overwhelmingly white. Her racist fears were realized. We have more integration of K-12 education today because of reforms like vouchers and charter schools and traditional public school choice. And that’s a wonderful thing.

  18. like the latest chip bill,why didnt the gov send intel to the investors on wall street,or diamons bank? if the religious right wanted such education funded,they should have hit the mega churchs and wall street with the need to expand their education(profit first buddy,or grants and forget). tell the church donors, were gonna educate to hate and displace other Americans for our needs,first. why do we continue to fund our demise? in America where the gdp runs about 23 trillion,and first in the world,were still using taxpayer money to fund the rich and religion.
    wheres the living wage,retirement and health care?

  19. like the latest chip bill,why didnt the gov send intel to the investors on wall street,or diamons bank? if the religious right wanted such education funded,they should have hit the mega churchs and wall street with the need to expand their education(profit first buddy,or grants and forget). tell the church donors, were gonna educate to hate and displace other Americans for our needs,first. why do we continue to fund our demise? in America where the gdp runs about 23 trillion,and first in the world,were still using taxpayer money to fund the rich and religion.
    wheres the living wage,retirement and health care?
    farm welfare, if you ever want to see a corp welfare system,try farming. the whole idea is to fail and bail. big ag,seed,commodities,fert,implements, keep the farmer from ever getting ahead of the game,the big farms sucked up others to get to where they are at,and many want to incorp, instead of passing it down. that alone is the trick, their kids off to univ come home and see the circle of momey,but it never falls into their pockets. the banks gladly pass on the land from defunct or passed on people,theyre only intrest to hold the note and hope for corp farming and mnuchin to come and land grab it all. trump sent every land owner here in oliver co, NoDak bout $100 per acre on his bail and buy vote scheme. now,how much was that,times 50? now who passed the farm bill to help the farmers in “need”,Demos, like Dashell(D)and Dorgan(D). and the asswipes here look at them as the problem..

  20. Not one comment in this stream about uncontrolled bullying. It has nothing to do about religion or whether the school is integrated or not. Incorrigible peer behavior competing for boy toys by denying access to a bathroom stall forcing soiling of garments so that the 10 year old girl is surely no longer appealing! Parent intervention with teacher and administration only to be stone walled. After three attempts to appeal for more effective intervention of school personnel to control rampant bullying, the parents had the choice to relocate to a private school. The private school is Catholic though the family is Protestant. The school teaches children how to opt out of communion and prayer. Discipline is no nonsense and clear. The school is integrated. Parents and teachers on first name basis. Curriculum is rigorous and progressive. Folks … families will pay any price to protect their children from unbridled bullying. That has nothing to do with religious choice or resistance to integration.

  21. “…no signs of “quid pro quo” anywhere in sight…”

    Jane Mayer’s “Dark Money” (2016) cites donations by the Charles G. Koch Foundation, including $132K: Indiana University; $250K: Northwestern University School of Law; and $167K: Ohio State University.

    Was a quid pro quo arranged for influence on curricula at these (and many other) universities? In 2012, George Mason University students sued their school to learn the terms of a donation agreement between Koch and their school.

  22. Norris, who exactly was denying the 10 year old girl access to the bathroom stall?

  23. @daleb, my understanding is that Indiana doesn’t technically fund these religious schools. Instead, the vouchers are given to the parents who (according to a court ruling) can spend it as they wish, even at explicitly religious schools. In other words, the money is laundered through the parents.

  24. Only one of the many reasons why I moved out of Indiana when I retired and none of my 3 sons and their families live in Indiana. I watched Eric Miller and the Rightwing Christian Nationalists take over the Republican Party and destroy the public school system.

  25. This recent voucher info is a definite day ruiner as ALEC continues its path of destruction.

    Does anyone else find state and local office candidate campaign mailers that highlight the candidate being a Christian extremely offensive?

  26. I’ll never understand why, if the state has money for school vouchers, they can’t give that same money to “failing, ghetto” schools to help them improve.

  27. Where to start…for those of us who believe in, whose careers supported, whose children attended public schools, whose hearts break as blow upon blow destroys the invaluable shared resource that public education has been for the idea and the practice of democracy…maybe grasping the actual history of the planned devastation of this resource will help…I know a bit of it…

    Can we all please widen and clean our lenses? Stop decrying the poor preparation of young people entering post secondary institutions. Look at the realities of poverty, racism, classism, bullying, learning disability – all of the myriad of causes, many sadly intractable, in our current societies that stand between success in school and life. Stop blaming poorly paid teachers whose years of training are cancelled by boards, parents, business people, politicians, us, every person who went to school, and, thereby, knows how it should be. Who among that vast population loves children enough to devote a life to their wellbeing, for their best futures?

    Recognize how much of success in schooling rests on success in parenting, accompanied by that community it takes to raise a child. Devoted educators are but a part of an effort requiring each individual’s heartfelt participation. Each of us needn’t actively love children, but we can actively support those who do.

    Take that unfortunate study that many think started this downward slide: A Nation at Risk. Who wrote it and supported it (Lee Iacocca and other prominent business ‘leaders’). Who fact checked those ‘our schools are failing us’ conclusions? Who decided that public schools must prepare youth for jobs, that any other learnings are ‘fluff’? We should be ashamed that, on our watch, public education has been bombed into oblivion for most practical purposes!

    That may be a leading, if now ancient study, but it is in no way the only one. Very few of us have been able to avoid the group think that places accountability ahead of critical thinking as THE important educational indicator.

    Sheila’s frustration and grief at the state of civics education is so justified – AND – realistically, it extends across the entirety of the education landscape.

    And, I am ranting. Apologies, sort of…

    Yes, racism, that old criminal mastermind, helps those in power craft stupid but somehow acceptable explanations about parent choice. Classism, that just as old fellow traveller, rushes up to assert that low-class explains why those others cannot ever succeed and thus do not deserve support or a hand up.

    Religious righteousness skirts the teachings of all of the ‘blessed but passed on’ leaders (i.e., excepting the living Dahli Lama) about compassion, loving your neighbor, all of it, in favour of power, surely the reward of the deserving righteous. Education has become one more arena of selfish privilege.

    We know this, all of us. You all can express it infinitely better than I.

    My belief, and my point, is that we are burning public education at the stake, and despite ourselves, seemingly dancing around the pyre with insane glee.

    Perhaps a way out of this disastrous mess is to pay attention, to employ intelligent skepticism, to fact check assumptions, to respect and appreciate educators and let them know it, to use our voices with intention and volume, to pay attention (bears repeating) and to vote.

    Thanks, as always, for listening. Please forgive spelling and other grammatical misadventures. Best wishes!

  28. MVL,

    Well said!

    Never apologize for explaining your point of view! Some folks believe you have to keep your opinions to 200 characters or less, lol, the world doesn’t run on tweets!

  29. So much well said, starting with Doug Mason.

    Warren has it right. They lie and they launder money for religious education through the parents. The idea that I should pay taxes to each parent to have their children indoctrinated in a religious school is absurd. The reason I vote to pay more in taxes for public schools is that I believe the true purpose of public education is E Pluribus Unum – to make better American citizens which benefits everyone.

    Joy asks the true question – why not fix the “broken” schools. I may have pointed out before, and I have had this discussion with Paul, I went to my neighborhood, integrated high school in Detroit, instead of accepting the invitation to attend the magnet school. The result – a math professor that told us that we were too dumb for the curriculum and stopped teaching, because any “worthy” student was attending the magnet school. My 55th class reunion is next weekend. There aren’t any “unworthy” classmates, or “losers” in the class. Their life history attests to that.

    Sorry, but the concern for “failing inner city schools” is a canard. Vouchers are just an excuse to stop paying money to educate the “N****s” and let the parents get paid for sending their kids to private schools.

    We seem to love canards like that. I recently heard yet another argument about how vaping is really all about weaning people off of cigarettes, while they use flavors to attract children, and all of the advertising shows healthy, active, young actors and talks about “real satisfaction”, with nary a word about smoking cessation.

    Voucher should be banned, except in the rare case where there is no public school. Then the curriculum should be seriously monitored. Of course, this won’t happen.

    ** Old man speak – when I was growing up, Jewish kids went to religious school in the afternoons after public school (except the orthodox). My friend Aisha told me of parallel experiences growing up Muslim. Christian children, for the most part, had Sunday school for religious education. Only the Catholic kids, for the most part, went to parochial schools and even then the Catholic high school only accepted some and told the rest to attend public schools. It seemed to work for religious education “back then”. **

  30. Vouchers and charters have not improved public schools (which vouchers and charters drained of funds) nor the overall performance of the students enrolled in voucher and charter schools.

    Student test scores can be predicted by the income of their community. The richer students and families who have 3 square meals a day, health insurance and care, a home with heat and air conditioning, adequate shoes and clothing, computers at home, and two highly educated parents will have higher test scores overall than students who have none of these advantages. Vouchers and charters won’t solve those problems and have frustrated public schools’ abilities to address those disadvantages.

    Schools serving higher proportions of at-risk students need more school nurses, more social workers, more school psychologists to help deal with the special ed. needs, and more school security personnel to protect students and staff in schools in high-risk neighborhoods. Yet funds for those extra supports are in shorter and shorter supply thanks to charters and vouchers whose schools don’t need or refuse to supply such supports and control their admissions accordingly even though these struggling students are the very ones that charter and voucher schools were supposed to help.

    But that contention always was a wolf in sheep’s clothing. Charter schools were the consolation prize when state legislators couldn’t pass voucher legislation. With the charter school foot-in-the-door and the election of Mitch Daniels, voucher proponents finally passed a voucher bill for poor families. But legislators whose own childen were in private and parochial schools and who even served on the boards and fund-raising committees of those schools kept raising income eligibility so that their own children could qualify for vouchers.

    Ironically, the wide variety of academic choices available to students has been jeopadized with the ‘school choice’ movement. Charter and voucher schools cater to the least challenging, least expensive students to serve as special ed. students and non-English speaking families can attest. Public schools struggle financially to provide the innovative instruction and accommodations that these more challenging students require and deserve. If public schools can’t financially serve these students’ needs well and charter and voucher schools won’t, the term ‘school choice’ is only a cruel hoax.

  31. Norris Lineweaver,
    No bullying in Catholic Schools? Really?
    May I submit that it all depends on who you are or are not in private schools when it comes to the bully issue.
    No one will be allowed to bully the biggest donor’s kid.
    The biggest donor’s child can continue to reek havoc on the kid at the lower end of the pecking order.
    Don’t believe me?
    Ask the people who work there.
    Our hands are tied when it comes to power and money.

  32. We have My Man Mitch Daniels to thank for the school voucher program. Then Pence expanded and then as Sheila points out our World’s Worst Legislature has expanded it further. Meanwhile, property tax cap at 1%, 2008 mess, lowers assessed values on homes, less money to public schools compounded by ever expanding vouchers mean that school districts have to pass referendums to keep up with growing districts. Sorry, but this debacle will rank behind SB 1 that the World’s Worst Legislature is going to crank out in record time to ban abortion in the state of Indiana. The Republican Supermajority downtown is too busy fighting amongst themselves debating whether a rape victim or incest victim should have an exception to get an abortion. While I still will do the minimum of writing to my horrible representatives to voice my opinion, I don’t hold out much hope. But, I do find hope in helping the campaigns for candidates that are willing to run against these Republicans that are disregarding the direction of their constituents.

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