Universal “Scholarships”

Both the IBJ and the Capital Chronicle have reported on the legislature’s current effort to totally privatize education in Indiana. If passed, Senate Bill 305 would allow any and all parents to get taxpayer money to enroll their children in a private school or home school them. 

The legislation would dramatically expand Educational Scholarship Accounts (ESAs)–a more neutral term for the vouchers that–for very good reason– are no longer as popular as they once were.

In 2021, Indiana’s General Assembly approved ESA’s for special education students by burying the proposal in the budget, where it escaped much in the way of sustained scrutiny. SB305 would expand the program to all students, via a universal Education Scholarship Account.

The existing ESAs are limited to students who qualify for special education, and whose families meet income limits. (Not that those limits aren’t generous–a family of four can make up to $154,000 annually. That’s three times the amount required for a student to qualify for the federal free or reduced price lunch program.)

SB 305 would extend the ESA program to all students, regardless of a student’s educational needs or their family’s income level.

So what’s wrong with ESA’s? 
As numerous observers point out, there’s a lot wrong. For one thing, the bill lacks any public oversight or measures ensuring accountability. The state would simply give tax dollars to parents who would be trusted to spend it on their children’s education (there doesn’t seem to be any mechanism to ensure that the dollars would actually be used for education) at any school of their choice, or for home schooling and/or educational materials.
Apparently, all a parent needs to do to get some $7500 per student is fill out an online application promising to spend “part of the money” for the study of “reading, grammar, mathematics, social studies or science.” No standards. No requirements for art, music, foreign language or–perish the thought–civics. Not even those pesky criminal background checks required of public school teachers and volunteers.

Interestingly, the program would be managed by the state’s treasurer–not the Department of Education. 

Clearly, education isn’t the goal.

Researchers have exhaustively documented the results of current voucher programs, and repeatedly demonstrated that these programs have failed to improve educational outcomes. Over 90% of voucher recipients take them to religious schools that frequently substitute dogma for science and history. My own research confirms that–in Indiana at least– few, if any, include civics instruction. (My personal favorite among the history textbooks most widely used in these religious schools describes slave trade as “sometimes unwilling black immigration.” Ya think?)

As the Capital Chronicle reported,

Indiana has about 87,000 private school students, according to the Indiana Department of Education (IDOE). About 44,000 of those use the state’s Choice Scholarship program — which allows families to receive vouchers to attend private schools. But the remaining 43,000 would be eligible for the grant, which would average around $7,500 statewide.

That would add more than $300 million a year to what the state is already sending to private, mostly religious schools.

The voucher program started similarly with a cap of 7,500 students at a cost of $15 million. The cap doubled the next year and now there is no limit and a current annual cost of $240 million.

As I reminded readers a few days ago, Indiana’s current voucher program classifies families that earn up to $145,000 per year as “poor” enough to have the state pay for their kids to attend private schools. Qualification for state-funded childcare and/or pre-kindergarden is a different matter: families bringing home a mere $27,500 are “too rich” to qualify.

None of this makes sense unless the legislature’s actual goal is to encourage an exodus from the state’s public schools, a goal that furthers other longtime efforts: destroying the teacher’s union, and finding a “work-around” of the First Amendment’s prohibition against funneling tax dollars to religious organizations.

SB 305’s proposed expansion would cost a fortune and fail to deliver educational benefits. Worse, those dollars would come from our already under-resourced public schools. That would especially harm rural Hoosiers who live in areas too sparsely populated to support private alternatives.

Since it is no longer possible to defend vouchers on educational grounds, this misbegotten effort is being sold under the current MAGA banner of “parental choice.” 

Whenever I hear these culture warriors utter the word “choice,” I expect a bolt of lightning to strike. They want the “choice” to avoid vaccinations, the “choice” not to have their children learn accurate history, the “choice” to keep “Heather Has Two Mommies” out of the library…

But other people’s choices? (The choice to support sound, secular public education, or terminate a pregnancy, for example?) Not so fast!

If SB 305 passes, it will certainly affect the choices of people who might otherwise be thinking of relocating to Indiana. 


  1. The unrestrained criticism of religious sponsored private schools is overrated. If the state legislature passed a bill that gives public school administrators substantive authority to eliminate bullying in the classroom and common areas of public schools, you will witness a significant rise in public school enrollment and return to neighborhood schools.

  2. Indiana is on a real downward spiral. Circling the drain. This nonsense will likely become law.

  3. When I first read about SB305 I wondered how on earth the state would regulate way the money would be spent to prevent massive fraud and insure children being home schooled were actually being educated. Now I get it. The money would be shoveled out the door and the children would be abandoned. This seems too evil even for our insane legislators.

  4. Not all schools have bullying in the classroom and common errors.
    No matter what they do Indiana will still be in the bottom 10 in the nation of school rankings.
    IF, they helped some of those families that earn $27,000 or $50,000 then our standard of education would improve.
    Stop helping the “choice” people Shelia talks about and start helping the middle and the lower income people to lift the state up.

  5. We might soon see innovative parents deem child labor an internship as a result of which then can pocket the cash and send kids out to work in menial jobs. This would be a variation of The School of Hard Knocks.”

  6. This new voucher bill allows billionaire parents to send ther children to the most expensive private schools in the state with much poorer parents paying the freight. What’s worse, the private schools can continue to charge tuition – without a cap on tuition – that denies enrollment to poorer parents’ children.

    With SB 305, we can have tax supported Nazi schools, Russian schools, and parents who just take the card and spend it on themselves. The Treasurer’s office will have no
    record of which parents are legitimate or not. It appears that legislators whose own children are in private schools and who can readily pay the private school tuition want taxpayers to pay for legislator’s children to attend more exclusive schools that don’t admit more profoundly disabled kids or kids who can’t speak Enclish. Indeed, the legislator who sponsored voucher expansion several years ago was in charge of the fund-raising committee for his children’s private school. I’ll bet he got a very warm welcome when the voucher legislation passed.

    They promised better education for less money and have failed both parts of that promise. It’s time to start easing hme out of vouchers to pay their own ticket.

  7. Please correct my last sentence to show “It’s time to start easing THEM out of vouchers to pay for their own ticket into exclusive private schools.

  8. So? What is being done to modify the bill by inserting language that requires auditing of the education inputs and outputs of those who accept vouchers (parents and “schools”)? The public does not learn much about the use of public money. Look at the return of potholes to recently repaved streets. How much auditing is done of individual tax returns? The right wing should delight in more auditing when their tax dollars are being used to support fringe groups like homeschoolers who are out to destroy the greatest democratizing institutions — the public schools .

  9. The Indiana Legislature (Republicans) lacks the education in government and civics needed to make decisions regarding educating our younger generation. They have violated the U.S. Constitution and the Indiana Constitution at every turn; the same is true at the federal level where the Constitutional provision allowing this government to incur debts also requires they pay the debts…and the beat goes on. Little by little they are chipping away at the U.S. Constitution by passing control to State governments in their determination to kill democracy, Rule of Law and ignoring their State Constitutions to enact laws putting power and control into the hands of private business. Their goal is Dictatorship of America to rival that of Putin and Kim Jong Un who are looking for any excuse to use nuclear weapons. They are an international minority in control over the majority of world leaders at this time. We cannot, and must not, separate the control of Indiana public education from Russia’s current war in Ukraine as Putin seeks to reform the Soviet Union. What do you believe Russian education is teaching their children to lead them to willingly walk into another war they know is wrong? What do you believe Indiana, and other Republican led school systems, will be teaching regarding total government control in the hands of private businesses vs. government of the people, by the people and for the people which is perishing before our very eyes. Russia’s wealthy minority controls the people and Putin controls the wealthy minority; the Republican minority is controlling the government in our House and Senate. Trump and his minions are the foundation of our government with the continuing assistance of Indiana Legislators. Do not let yourself believe that Indiana’s education system is a minor detail in the larger picture of the federal government and on the world stage. Those federal lawmakers did not begin at the federal level; they began at the state level and were educated by their home states; Indiana’s Senate Bill 305, if passed, is another step the ladder to Dictatorship at the highest level of government.

  10. For starters, Norris can you become any more ignorant?

    Free public education is the cornerstone of a democracy. Without it there will be no democracy, period. Private “education” is nothing more than funneling in brainwashing such as the “unwilling immigration” nonsense or the “War of Northern Aggression”.

  11. It’s definitely time for those who have no children to speak up. This is clearly an abuse of their rights to have an educated populace in exchange for their tax dollars.

  12. Gee wiz, Dr. Stan, all the intelligent people gave up and moved to the Philippines.

  13. I think that the ACLU should find a Muslim family in Indiana who would be willing to ask for these funds to send their kids to a Madrassa.

  14. Do private schools have to worry about this: ???

    The answer is private schools do not have to worry about fully articulated policy on bullying. The policy is unwritten and very simple. You enroll an incorrigible child unresponsive to authority and intervention, the family and the child are disenrolled with strong parent leadership standing by the principal. Public schools do not have that option despite remedies sanctioned by law. It is an unfair condition placed on quality public school education. Those obsessed with the far right and/or partisan argument miss the point.

  15. “If SB 305 passes, it will certainly affect the choices of people who might otherwise be thinking of relocating to Indiana. ” Given the lack of good local news, the focus of nearly all news on “newsertainment” and the general level of civics education across the country…I doubt it.

  16. Aren’t some of the people on here complaining that the income threshold is too high for this program also the same people who want to make college free regardless of a parents incomes?
    Some people are perfectly fine with working class families (who send their kids to trade schools) subsidizing the college education of rich families. I am not.

    By the way, I 100% agree the income threshold is too high. But let’s means test everything.

    Don’t assume because one GOP legislator introduces a bill that it represents the thinking of all Senate Republicans. Most bills go no place. Even ones authored by Republicans.

  17. I wonder if this will be put on the ballot…..like the “right to work” law was or those that only care about their pocketbook make and pass this law! I am even concerned about the State of Indiana purchasing text books for students. Who will decided the textbooks that will be purchased? I can see problems with this! And, can you just imagine what parents can do with $7,500 per child! I remember seeing families going on vacation to the beach with their first subsidy payment they received a couple years ago. These were people that lived hand to mouth! If you got it spend it! I will also add, the bill that Morrison has proposed that those elected for school board note their political party and be voted on for party and not qualifications. It is really scary what the Republicans are doing to Indiana. I wonder what the answer is to make a change for our well being. I have seen good Democrat candidates defeated and it makes me sick to have seen how hard they have worked for us!

  18. Note – The above video is roughly 4:30 seconds. It highlights Americas Golden Age and compares it to our current direction.

  19. When, in 1968, Hannah Arendt wrote “The ideal subject of totalitarian rule is not the convinced Nazi, or the convinced Communist, but people for
    whom the distinction between fact and fiction (i.e., the reality of experience) and the distinction between true and false (i.e., the standards of thought)
    no longer exist,” she was not thinking of Indiana, or Texas, or Florida, or Kansas’ new Huckabee governor, but the concept of “alternative facts”
    fits in perfectly. The idea of “…sometimes unwilling black immigration,” fits Arendt’s definition perfectly.
    It’s not that the Indiana legislature is necessarily looking to create fertile grounds for totalitarianism,
    but that the erosion of verifiable truth is anathema for the functioning of a democracy. it does, however, fit
    nicely with building the foundation of a theocracy.
    Let us not forget that he who was chosen by TFG because of his evangelical following, and seems to
    like being seen as “The best Christian ever” was elected to Indiana’s governorship by the folks who tolerate
    its legislature.

  20. The list of reasons to move out of Indiana keeps getting longer.

    Of course, so does the list of reasons that people have for never moving to Indiana.

  21. Most Catholics pay twice to send their kids to traditional Catholic parochial school. They pay their property taxes, and they pay tuition usually for multiple kids, to the Church. You would have to live in that system to understand the immense pressure that puts on those families. I’ve heard that system produces higher standardized test results overall and over 90% of students go on to college. They get a better result for less money?
    We grew up in the Shortridge HS district but for traditional reasons went to an Archdiocesan HS. Back in the 60’s I was used as a race pony for my older brother (autistic spectrum) to get through HS. It was miserable and I had no choice. I’ve always wondered if public school would have had more options.

  22. The idea is to get government out of every facet of human life except to control women’s bodies and the public’s spiritual thoughts.
    Put a fork in it and call it done!

  23. Good lord. My cat could benefit from a little obedience schooling, and I could definitely find a use for $7,500. She is, after all, my fur baby, and with essentially zero oversight, who’d be the wiser? (JK, I’d probably be the only one to get caught.)

  24. Who would have thought that after the Eisenhower years the republicans would sell out for power and greed over the quality of life, education, and truthfulness. And how can a gerrymandered state fight back?

  25. I have tried to explain to my friend, Paul Ogden, that college would not be “free.” Education should be seen as part of our infrastructure.

  26. Rose; no one is putting immense pressure on Catholic families, or any denomination of private/religious schooling, to send their children to those private schools. We who are not Catholic are paying taxes to support the infrastructure, public safety, fire protection on all properties owned by the church which covers much larger areas than the homes we pay property taxes on. Voucher students who attend Catholic schools but are not Catholic are required to participate in their religious classes. Now there is a movement from the right to teach creationism in public schools with what money may be left in public education budgets after the voucher support has been deducted. Just a few days ago Sheila reported that the annual income limit to qualify for voucher assistance is $145,000. There is something drastically wrong with this system and increasing voucher students is not the answer. Sheila has also reported more than once that surveys have shown that students in religious and private schools do not receive a better education than those in public schools.

    As Peggy stated; “It’s definitely time for those who have no children to speak up. This is clearly an abuse of their rights to have an educated populace in exchange for their tax dollars.” I am 85 years old and my children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren are mostly past school age; I want my tax dollars to be used for public education for them and all children but have no say in where my tax dollars go. It is long long past time for churches to start paying property taxes; most ended their neighborhood outreach programs to aid surrounding areas where needed.

  27. Jo Ann like I said, you would have to live in that system to understand the traditional pressure that is on those catholic families. A lot of them pay taxes and also pay tuition for their choice to send their kids to their family’s tradition of Catholic education. Their property tax dollars have gone to the public schools without their students benefitting/attending those schools. I hear that the income brackets to qualify for vouchers have gone up, 145 thousand for a family of four. That would have been helpful when there were 9 kids in my family attending Catholic schools back in the day. We paid tuition, books, uniforms, transportation and building funds.
    It wasn’t privileged, it was a lot of sacrifice.
    We put our daughter through Catholic system, and she did well, the stress of one child doesn’t compare. My daughter now has her bi-racial children in a research based bilingual public
    I don’t like the authoritarian stance of Catholic Church especially in Women’s issues and don’t understand why non-Catholics would send their children to those schools?

  28. Indiana continues to show its true colors: bright red Republican. That’s sad. Anyone who wants to change things needs to run in the primaries against the red Republicans.

    Start a primary campaign with better political candidates who will act on behalf of real educational values.

  29. Should public schools all have closed borders? My old school system in Elwood loses more then 15% of their students to two public schools with open borders. I’m sure Anderson schools and various other Indiana public schools loses a large number of students to other near by public schools. Their parents want to get away from their toxic public school systems.

    That being said, having no oversite on where the home school (exactly why does a home school mom or dad need $15,000 to educate their two kids?) and charter school parents the money. Fifthteen thousand dollars would be more then enough for a educational trip to Disney World.

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