Vouchers And The World’s Worst Legislature…

I have posted previously–several times– about the Indiana legislature’s misguided support for school vouchers. I won’t repeat those criticisms here–those of you who are regular readers, or who follow education policy, know the score. I’ll just remind you that there’s absolutely no evidence that the schools receiving vouchers do a better job than the public schools they are bleeding of desperately needed resources, and because most of the schools that accept vouchers are religious, voucher programs deepen social and civic divisions.

The truth is, vouchers are basically a First Amendment work-around allowing public funds to flow to religious schools. The Courts have accepted the pathetically obvious pretense that the funds go to parents rather than to religious institutions, so hey! no  Church/State violation.

In deep Red Indiana–which has the country’s most expansive voucher program–arguments against school vouchers have fallen on the same deaf ears that characterize other policy debates in the World’s Worst Legislature. Our rural Republican super-majority wants more guns, more women forced to give birth, and more kids “educated” in fundamentalist religious schools.

But maybe–just maybe–those of us who support public education have overlooked a messaging opportunity. Rather than pointing to research supporting the numerous criticisms of voucher programs, perhaps we need to take a lesson from Oklahoma.

As the linked article from The Brookings Institution recently reported,

Oklahoma is a deep-red state. In 2020, Donald Trump won the state with nearly two thirds of the vote. The state’s governor, both U.S. senators, and all five U.S. House members are Republicans. And the GOP holds about 80% of the seats in both chambers of the state legislature. So, when Governor Kevin Stitt and Oklahoma Senate leader Greg Treat declared a statewide school voucher bill a major priority for the 2022 legislative session, it might have seemed that its enactment would be a foregone conclusion. But when the legislature adjourned at the end of May, the voucher bill had failed by a vote of 24-22 in the Oklahoma Senate—and hadn’t even been called up for a vote in the Oklahoma House.

How could this happen? How could a bill supported by the Republican governor and introduced by the Oklahoma Senate leader fail to achieve a majority in a chamber where the GOP held more than three fourths of the seats? And why didn’t it even get to the floor of the Oklahoma House?

It turns out that in Oklahoma, like in Indiana, lawmakers don’t just divide  along partisan lines. Lawmakers of the same party who represent urban districts will also disagree with those in their party who represent rural areas. (In deeply gerrymandered Indiana, we’re talking about Republicans.)

That urban/rural division was what played out in Oklahoma.

It turns out that it isn’t just city schools that are under-resourced. A large number of rural school districts struggle financially, and have trouble recruiting teachers.  More significantly, in Indiana as in Oklahoma, there also aren’t many educational options in rural parts of the state, a situation that limits the appeal of voucher legislation to families in those areas.

When voucher proponents talk about “school choice,” they inevitably point to schools in the poorer precincts of cities. How often have we been told that vouchers would allow poor children “trapped” in under-performing schools to “escape” to a presumably  available and superior  private or  parochial school?

The thing is, those options–good, bad or indifferent–simply don’t exist in most of the small towns scattered through rural America. Those towns–most of which have been  losing population for a long time–don’t produce enough children of school age to support alternative institutions. That may be  one reason Indiana allowed its vouchers to be used at “virtual” online schools. (It appears that the state got massively ripped off by scammers pretending to be online educators…but our legislators never learn…)

Maybe the pitch we need to make to all those legislators in the Statehouse who represent Indiana’s rural areas is something along the lines of  “Do you know that school vouchers are really a way to shift tax dollars from your constituents to those pointy-headed liberals and “diverse” folks who live in the cities? Indiana’s voucher program is taking money from the good folks who live in places like  Roachdale and Pine Village and sending those dollars to folks in Indianapolis and South Bend and other urban areas.”

That argument has the virtue of being true. Of course, all the other criticisms of vouchers are also demonstrably true, and those criticisms haven’t made a dent.

Maybe, however, “the city folks are stealing your money” would be more effective, given the depth of Indiana’s rural/urban divide.

Worth a try…..


  1. Telling the rural residents that city people are stealing their money would definitely get their attention. It just might serve as the first nail in the coffin for school vouchers.

  2. School vouchers are the very reason I left the R party in 2012.
    I taught in one of those rural schools you write about here. 50% of our kids were on free/reduced lunch- basically poverty level.
    Many parents don’t have a car, a job or other means to provide for their children let alone drive them to another school.
    In some cases, the ‘Christian’ school refused to take some families bc they were troubled or low- achieving.
    Meanwhile our local state rep and senator support vouchers and home-schooling (looking at you Tim Wesco) without even considering what they are doing to the students that Jesus talked about as ‘the less fortunate’
    It’s so disingenuous and heartbreaking for the educators who are still trying to lift up families in our township who have NOTHING without their schools. In some cases the school system is all the township has.
    And of course the biggest sell is from the phoney followers of Christ who think the money needs to follow the child.
    God have mercy.

  3. As brought out yesterday, keeping the population dumber than a bag of hammers serves certain political parties well.

    If they can destroy a public school system which at least attempts to give equal education to all, even though it does fail miserably at it, there is no real alternative unless you want to be indoctrinated into some belief that one doesn’t want to be bothered with. On top of everything else, when you siphon money away from the public school system, the public school systems go back to the taxpayer so your taxes constantly go up as you are paying for someone else’s kids to go to some private religious school!

    Here, the local school district will write a private school a check or voucher for 10 to 15,000 for a student to come out of public school into that private religious school.

    Now imagine a family with four kids! They all want their kids to go to such and such and so and so Evangelical educational center or school. So the local school district is writing on behalf of that particular family vouchers that equal anywhere from 40 to 60,000! Of course the school district is going to have to go back to the taxpayers and request more money because that hole in the bottom of the boat is leaking like a sieve! The school board is hemorrhaging money!

    How often can the school boards keep going back to the taxpayers? It is an unfair setup! If a parent wants to send their kid to a private school, they should have to pay the tuition! It used to be that way.

    One case in point that I am very well aware of, a family close by, nice people by the way, moved into the area, their six kids all go to a private religious school! They rent a modest house. Basically, they are not on the hook for property tax unless it’s completely passed on by the landlord which it is not, because they receive assistance from the government to live in that home. Now, the school board is writing vouchers for those six kids to go to a private school instead of going to the regular available public school which is almost across the street. So multiply 15,000 by 6! That’s what gets siphoned out of the school budget or the school district’s operational funds by that one family alone. Is that fair to everyone else? If someone wants to send their kids to that type of school, that should be out of their own pocket! If they want a religious education, the parents should teach them their particular church dogma at home. What happened to the separation between church and state? This is wrong on so many levels!

  4. GRRR! Once again, it is clear that everything Republicans touch dies. They are so beholden to the idiotic notion of privatization of everything that shooting their own feet off doesn’t even register. Just two years after Diane Ravitch, W’s No Child Left Behind guru, looked at the same data and declared the same thing as the first paragraph in today’s blog.

    This moronic notion is a left-over from Milton Friedman’s equally moronic “theory” of Supply-Side Economics, aka “trickle down”. Destroying anything and everything that government is supposed to do to HELP ITS CITIZENS, is the basic premise of this stupidity. So, naturally, the Reagan/Regan administration embraced this fetid mess to satisfy the “private” school investors who donate to Republicans no matter what.

  5. “…but our legislators never learn…)” On the bright side, at least they’re consistent.

  6. Religion is a tie to the past that’s meant to establish anchors for behavior because way back when modern religions came about behavior in the past then was abhorrent, more functional behavior was visualized, and the anchors were set on those improvements. Fast forward a couple of millennia. People who can’t keep up with the rate of change in the world latch onto religion to hold on to the past that they enjoyed.

    Of course, this is all an oversimplification, but sometimes simplifying reveals the forest instead of the individual trees. In the big picture, religion has the effect of holding back change.

    The question is, is what we value in life better served in these times by the past or the future?

    The rest of the world will continue along the rapid change path. The destruction of the climate that we built our civilization adapted to will continue no matter what we do. The slow path leads to our economy being more out of step with the global economy and more at odds with our civilization infrastructure.

    Is that really what we want? That’s a big price to pay to keep rural America comfortable.

    What alternative can be thought of that will allow rural America to fully participate in the global economy yet allow them to live where and how they remember from back in their good times? I’ll have to be honest, I cannot think of how that’s possible.

  7. Hmm, is there a connection between public schools and unions?

    What percent of teacher unions vote for Democrats?

    As some have mentioned “public school systems,” very few comments about teacher unions. I don’t think money going to kids is the problem – it’s the money going to the teachers who vote for Democrats.

    If only there was a way to eliminate that problem.

  8. Todd,

    That is mostly correct, but add in the donors who sponsor those same corrupt politicians and you have the scenario discussed today. The irony is that teachers HATE having to unionize, but if they didn’t they wouldn’t be able to feed their families on just their salaries. That said, most of the teachers I knew who had families had to work some form of part-time/summer jobs to make ends meet. More: MANY single-parent teachers’ children are on assisted lunch programs because they qualify. Why wouldn’t they vote Democrat? They are aware enough to realize that Republicans are trying to screw them from multiple ends.

    So, right. Republicans hate unions because their corporate donors tell them to. Clearly, Republicans have no minds of their own; see McCarthy, Kevin, for the best current example.

  9. I ran twice for State Representative in House District 63, which is the home of some of the worst legislators in the state, Mark Messmer, and Mike Braun. My opponent, Representative Shane Lindauer doesn’t even understand that voucher money comes directly out of the tuition support for the schools in his district. Former Superintendent Dr. Phil Downs, has calculated the “voucher effect” or the funds withheld from school corporations that go to private schools. For the district that I ran in, over $1 million went to private schools just in the school year 20/21, and that is a devastating amount for these small schools in Martin, Daviess, Dubois and Pike counties that make up District 63.

    During my campaign, I brought up this fact and it just sunk like a lead balloon. The opposition declared I was wrong, and often spoke disparagingly of teachers and administrators as if they were parasites feeding off of the government. The campaign theme here was how bad government is and how it needs to be reigned in, but there was no shortage of these “government haters” wanting to work for the very government they despised.

    Low voter turnout, FOX news, lack of information, a fear of a changing society mixed in with just a hint of racism makes vouchers seem irrelevant to then general population here. And it does not help when our own state legislators have no idea how education funding works.

    I am convinced that the worst legislature in the world has not reached the bottom yet, and will not stop until public education is dead in Indiana.

  10. I’d bet money that a lot of the folks that support and take advantage of these school vouchers rail heartily against the student debt forgiveness program.

  11. I know how much I pay in property and income taxes per year. That should be the FAMILY limit as to how much the State gives in a voucher to one family. Doesn’t matter if one or six kids go to private school. Put a limit to what a family can get.

  12. I have kvetched about the voucher system since its inception, as nothing more than a blatant move toward destroying the public schools system in order to more effectively indoctrinate children. To strip literally millions of dollars annually from the public schools and then crow about their failures has the same logic as the medieval practice of bleeding already compromised ill people and then wondering why they died. My own daughter attended a non-Christian religious school many years ago that I was able to afford because the school provided scholarships for less affluent people. So, for true school choice, there are indeed options other than robbing destitute Peter in order to benefit an already overstuffed Paul. But as you say, our short sighted, narrow minded, and ignorant so-called legislators never learn, and will continue to do so. *sigh*

  13. Vernon,

    That is correct. All the public/private/voucher debates are rationalizations for the elephant in the room. Even the Democratic Party cannot do what’s best for education because of their donors. That was the point of my comment the other day. Our schools need progressive reforms drastically to conform with what’s coming, but the oligarchs controlling the parties won’t allow it.

    Education is getting roasted because of politics and political corruption. We must separate the two, or we are dooming millions into ignorance and poverty.

    There is a reason China has stopped sending their young adults to colleges in the USA.

  14. Some people pay twice for their choice to send their kids to traditional parochial schools. For most families it is a struggle, and they give up having money to spend in other ways.

  15. Todd. Teacher’s unions support their members. Teacher’s support better education. Democrats are stronger supporters of better education than are Republicans. Better education benefits all of us. With the billions of dollars being pumped into politics, you think TEACHERS are the problem? We teachers have never had enough money to compete with rich folks. Our votes are a lot more important than our paltry wealth.

  16. Todd. You simply expose your bigotry attacking teachers and teacher unions. When I was in grad school at OSU I attended a “lecture” by a right wing bigot who was running for the elected highest education supervisor in OK. She would have been over all K-12 and higher education the state. I exposed her to be nothing but an Ayn Rand cult member set on destroying OK education at all levels. Fortunately she lost but was appointed by the R governor to wreck havoic where ever she could. She was so bad and full of hate the Governor was forced to fire her.

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