That Pesky Thing Called Evidence

The World’s Worst Legislature is barreling toward the session’s finish line, and the Republican super-majority shows no sign of moderating its war on public education, despite recently emerging evidence that several of the most enthusiastic proponents of vouchers have disturbing conflicts of interest, not to mention overwhelming evidence that privatizing schools leads to poorer educational outcomes.

Of course, Indiana’s lawmakers are impervious to evidence of all kinds. (Look at Indiana’s gun laws, disregard of environmental impacts…the list goes on.)

I know my periodic posts on the subject are the equivalent of “whistling in the wind,” but as the research continues to pile up, I find it hard to restrain myself.


In the Public Interest recently shared  “a clear and concise breakdown of the problems of vouchers,” written by a Professor of Education Policy at Michigan State University, and  titled “There is no Upside.”

Here’s the lede:

What if I told you there is a policy idea in education that, when implemented to its full extent, caused some of the largest academic drops ever measured in the research record?

What if I told you that 40 percent of schools funded under that policy closed their doors afterward, and that kids in those schools fled them at about a rate of 20 percent per year?

What if I told you that some the largest financial backers of that idea also put their money behind election denial and voter suppression—groups still claiming Donald Trump won the 2020 election? Would you believe what those groups told you about their ideas for improving schools?

What if I told you that idea exists, that it’s called school vouchers, and despite all of the evidence against it the idea persists and is even expanding?

The article followed up with a compilation of independent analyses drawn from both the research community and “on the ground” reporting by journalists. You need to click through for the details, but here are the “top level” findings:

  • First, vouchers mostly fund children already in private school. Seventy to -eighty percent of kids using vouchers were already in private school before taxpayers picked up the tab.
  •  Among the relatively few kids who did use vouchers to leave public schools, test scores dropped between -0.15 and -0.50 standard deviations.
  • The typical private school accepting vouchers “isn’t one of the elite, private schools in popular narrative.” The typical voucher school is “small, often run out of a church property like its basement, often popping up specifically to get the voucher.”
  • Understandably, many  kids leave those sub-prime schools. (In Wisconsin, about 20 percent of kids left their voucher school every year and most transferred to a public school.)

Then there is the issue of transparency and oversight.

All of the above evidence should already tell you why it’s critically important that states passing voucher laws also include strong academic and financial reporting requirements. If we’re going to use taxpayer funds on these private ventures, we need to know what the academic results are and what the return on government investment is.

And of course, we don’t.

Then, of course, there’s discrimination.

We know that in Indiana, where one of the largest and lowest-performing voucher programs exists, more than $16 million in taxpayer dollars went to schools discriminating against LGBTQ children. Similar story in Florida—and that includes kids whose parents are gay, regardless of how the children identify.

Given the fact that Indiana’s legislature is advancing other discriminatory measures aimed at the LGBTQ community–especially several ugly measures  targeting trans children–I’m sure our lawmakers consider that documented bigotry to be a feature, not a bug.

The article also traces connections I’d not previously been aware of between the most active voucher proponents and far-right organizations engaging in efforts to suppress votes and reject the results of the 2020 presidential election.

Interestingly, the article doesn’t highlight one of my main concerns: that vouchers are an end-run around the First Amendment’s Separation of Church and State. Here in Indiana, over 90% of voucher students attend religious schools, a significant percentage of which are fundamentalist. The children who attend overwhelmingly come from the corresponding faith communities. Even the religious schools that don’t actively discriminate do not and cannot provide the diverse classroom environment that prepares children for  citizenship in increasingly diverse  America.(Most don’t teach civics, either.)

It also doesn’t address how vouchers disproportionately hurt rural communities.

The article concludes:

So there you have it: catastrophic academic harm. A revolving door of private school failures. High turnover rates among at-risk children. Avoiding oversight and transparency. Overt, systematic discrimination against vulnerable kids and families. Deep and sustained ties to anti-democratic forces working in the United States today.

That’s school vouchers in 2023.

That’s the “system” Hoosier lawmakers want to greatly expand–with funds stolen from the state’s already under-resourced public schools.

It’s indefensible.


  1. It may be futile to resist, but it is necessary to continue if for no other reason than to create a record that there are some people who are trying to right the boat.

    The actions of the legislators can be attributed to one of two things: they either genuinely do not know how wrong their decisions are due to true ignorance of facts and evidence, or they know and simply do not care. As evidence and facts continue to be piled up and revealed, the argument of ignorance diminishes, and they are left with the other excuse, that they know and just don’t care.

  2. The voucher initiative has proven to be a poor public policy. When new public policy deploys outsourcing to relieve administrative burden of a public sector that fails to deliver, the public should rightfully hold the electorate accountable.

  3. Thank you James Todd for this comment, “It may be futile to resist, but it is necessary to continue if for no other reason than to create a record that there are some people who are trying to right the boat.”

    I have a feeling this is all we can accomplish these days. The sudden (and surprising) indictment of Donald Trump has brought out his extended mafia family of voters to aid his personal sitting members of the Legislature to keep rocking the boat. Another issue here is the state level representatives trying to aid low- to- middle income families who cannot afford the rent for decent, only somewhat safe, rental homes and apartments. Those of us who own homes are now waiting for the 2023 assessments for property taxes due to the bidding wars and paying much higher amounts than their worth to buy a house. The purchasers will be in for a big surprise when the listed past tax assessment on their purchase is increased next year. Infrastructure repair and maintenance will not increase in the lower income areas due to the inflated purchase price of homes.

    “That’s the “system” Hoosier lawmakers want to greatly expand–with funds stolen from the state’s already under-resourced public schools.” I’m sure the public education portion of our coming inflated property taxes will make up a small percentage of the under-resourced public school budget. The money has to come from somewhere and we are the targeted someones they will tax to lower their losses.

  4. How many wrestlers flow from the inner city to Greenfield’s Center Grove school system dominating state wrestling championships? Is Center Grove cherry-picking talent?

    Several of the kids commented after their wins at the state about the “resources provided by the school.”

    Soon the state will have to create a class system for their schools to make it a fair competition for junior athletes.

    I attended a training last night for Water Rangers – a VOLUNTEER program in Indiana to monitor the water because the so-called IN Dept of Environmental Mgmt doesn’t have enough employees to “measure the water quality.” Don’t we have an extra $2 billion in cash????

    Sadly, Hoosiers care so little for this state they’ll let Republicans run it into the septic tanks.

  5. On of the voucher increase bills passing through the legislator only targeted Marion, Lake, and Vandenberg Counties. The legislator that prosed the bill said “This is a good experiment before we expand this to the rest of the state. The majority of the states voucher schools are in those three counties.”

    If you know anything about Indiana geography, Marion is Indianapolis, Lake is Gary etc…, and Vandenberg is Evansville. All three of those areas contain strong concentrations of Democrat voters. It looks like these guys are know they are targeting the “opposition” and if they won’t vote for you, then let’s make sure we give those parents the “freedom” to indoctrinate and dumb down the next generation of voters and they will.

    For the rest of deeply red and rural Indiana I am sure the idea of having the “freedom” to choose is great, but the reality is there are few if any voucher schools outside of the Indiana’s major population centers, so there is very little “choice” for the majority of Republican voters. On top of that I am not sure most people even realize the state is now supporting religious institutions with tax dollars.

    I don’t why they left out Allen County/Ft Wayne? Maybe just to make it look like they WERN’T targeting all of the Democratic voters in the state?

  6. I would quibble with your stats. Indeed, students who move from traditional public schools to charters or private schools do underperform their peers who remain in public schools. But after a few years those charter/private school students pass up and move ahead. When you control for time spent in charter/private school, students in those schools clearly outperform traditional public schools.

    You talk about failing private schools. Charter schools fail as well. But with school choice, parents can CHOOSE to move from those failing schools to ones that provide a better education. When was the last time a traditional public school failed because it wasn’t providing quality education? Never.

    I can’t believe people would seriously argue that we should go back to parents only being able to send their children to the local neighborhood public school and that only wealthy parents should have school choice.

  7. Look. This pathetic collection of morons are Republicans. They have NO sense of decency, NO moral compass, NO sense of ethics or fairness and NO respect for the rule of law. It’s what Republicans are… and have always been. Republicans are totally beholden to big money interests and, as we know all too well, those interests are about raising profits on a regular basis no matter what it takes. Defunding schools is and always has been a major mission of corporate-funded Republicans.

    Democrats are terrible at branding and capturing the message. In their quest to be un-Republican, they’ve become unrecognizable as a party that supports and leads FOR THE PEOPLE. The Democrats need somebody like Stacey Abrams leading their party to overturn the pile of broken cinder blocks created by Debbie Wasserman Schultz.

    Good luck, Indiana. You’re not alone. The Republican party has convinced good people to vote for them rather than a Democrat even when the Republicans are screwing them to the wall. It’s a kind of psychosis.

  8. If Dan is correct, how could a Democrat in those districts vote against “parental choice?” It would be suicide to vote against it.

  9. Public schools are open to any child who wants to attend; that includes those with social and emotional problems and without financial resources. By contrast the voucher and charter limit their enrollment to those that pass their evaluation. Under this scenario, the voucher schools should be out performing the public schools that are left trying to educate those kids who do not “qualify” for voucher schools.
    The legislature expects the public to accept the program as parental choice, when at least some of the public can connect the dots between busting the teachers union, starving the institutions where they teach, trying to cause public education to fail by their actions – then pointing to the failure as the reason for vouchers.
    The Republicans believe that everyone is as gullible and blind as their voters; but we’re not.

  10. Down here in sunny Florida, the legislature has just passed a universal voucher program. No reporting requirements for the schools and no need to qualify. You want the taxpayers to pay for your children’s un-Christian education, just say the word. On the bright side, the continuing effort to dumb down the populace has had an impact. The board that Gov. DeMentis hand picked to oversee Disney World found out that the old board had signed new deals with Disney to turn over authority over the Disney properties to Disney, with hefty penalties for any effort to change or dismantle the deals. Let me just quote Forrest Gump: “Stupid is as stupid does.”

  11. I believe the Republican Party’s foundation is crumbling because they abandoned bedrock principles for the shifting sands of dishonesty. They may look strong but I expect them to collapse. It isn’t futile to resist. It will hasten their downfall. But only time will prove or disprove my prediction.

  12. @Paul Ogden
    Please cite your source that students at private schools eventually “pass up and move ahead.” How do you defend The lack of accountability at private schools? How do you defend the discrimination at private schools? How do you defend monies supporting religious indoctrination at the majority of private schools?

  13. Paul, you may want to quibble with the stats, but where are the stats to back up your assertions? Also, did you not read that “Seventy to -eighty percent of kids using vouchers were already in private school before taxpayers picked up the tab.” – so are you saying that taxpayers should pay for those 70-80% who are wealthy and already taking advantage of school choice (by your definition)?

    “What if I told you there is a policy idea in education that, when implemented to its full extent, caused some of the largest academic drops ever measured in the research record?” – if that policy idea was to increase teacher pay, allow school librarians to select the books for the schools, feed all the children for free, teach full and accurate history, allow all children to live as their authentic selves…well, THEN they would listen to THAT evidence. As with everything else, this state legislature hears what they want to hear.

  14. “Deep and sustained ties to anti-democratic forces working in the United States today.” That’s the key. Poorly educated people are easier to manipulate, and children in these private vouchered schools are easily indoctrinated. It’s not about education, it’s about power, period. Oh, and if you’re able to stuff your pockets via conflicts of interest…the cherry on top!

  15. We seem to have a combination of “Follow the money,” “To hell with the First amendment,” and “The poorly schooled
    and ignorant will vote for Republicans,” here.

  16. For those that think the solid Democrat counties will rush to use vouchers, it won’t happen. 93% of students in Indiana attend Public Schools and that percentage is slightly different in the counties with large cities, but Private Schools are not the school of choice for most parents. The privates in Marion County pull a great deal of their students from surrounding counties, not Marion. Private schools do not offer transportation, have little accommodations for any kind of special needs, and very little in the way of sports or any other kind of extra curricular options. Most parents want the diversity of a public school because they don’t want their kids to grow up to be elitist jerks, or racists. Roncalli is the perfect example. This push for vouchers is not only the Private Schools but also to encourage home schooling, private tutoring, and of course pop-up church schools that will take the money and run.

    The World’s Worst Legislature will continue to steal money from the taxpayers of Indiana to exercise their hate for the teacher’s unions and people of color, while ignoring their base of voters in rural areas where vouchers cause as much damage to our Public Schools as it does in the metro areas. They will continue this punitive funding for our public schools because they know that they will continue to be reelected.

  17. Another factor that is unknown to many is how the voucher money is allocated. In simple terms, Private schools report a number for student that will be using vouchers to the state based on applications, previous enrollment, etc. Just as public schools must do, they have a “count day” in each semester so the state sends the funds to the for those students to the school. In the case of the Private school, any student that leaves, or doesn’t enroll or any funds that were more than the students that attended, the private school must return the money to the State. But those funds do not go back to the K-12 budget, they go back into the General Fund, so the public school will be denied money even if the voucher is not used at the private school.

    The World’s Worst Legislature earns their name every session.

  18. Teresa,

    Thanks for making and detailing my earlier points. EVERYTHING REPUBLICANS TOUCH DIES.

  19. Sharon is on to something. The Republican Party as we knew it is already defunct and we are dealing with its captors, a group of criminals and political opportunists, but state branches of that “party” are going the way of the Whigs at varying rates of decay.

    Well gerrymandered states like Indiana delay such transition and their elected members are well-named “The World’s Worst Legislature,” but as Sharon suggests, eventually the polity will see the currently misnamed Republican Party for what it is (a grouping of criminals, political opportunists, and now secessionists) and its collapse will become official.

    Our task is to speed up such demise lest the whole edifice comes crashing down amidst Trumps, Cruzes, MTGs et al.

  20. Not all methods used in Catholic schools could be considered to be of American values. Authoritarianism will not be questioned, and orders come down from on high. Corporal punishment and psychological methods were/are used to ensure conformity on a daily basis.
    The US founders were determined not to be ruled by King or Priest, but now we have government representatives shirking a fundamental responsibility of the government. Sure parochial schools will get the job done for less money, but students will turn out authoritarian. Once you step into religious hallowed halls the rules change and American values are secondary.

  21. sounds like germany,1934 to 1939. seems theres a bottom line ideal here, elitiest or above others. in public education one is free to be themselves. republicans if allowed,will create a coriculum that is in line with profit,and a push to why. if legislature members invest in private/charter institutions, seems fair to say conflict of intrests.. like private prisons..

  22. So,if 93% of Hoosiers attend public schools,and the majority of Indiana’s population votes Republican,aaannddd Republican voters are ignorant and poorly educated….

    Who’s at fault?

    Interesting times.

  23. Many years ago I learned, while seated at a table at a bipartisan but mostly Republican event, listening to the conversation, that the Republicans were dead-set against public education and were doing everything in their power to do away with it. This was long before The twice-impeached, disgraced, and now indicted former president was in politics, social media were newer and not as influential and ubiquitous as they now are, and people could still have at least semi- cordial discussions about politics. In my astonishment, and my position as a definite minority at the table, I kept my mouth shut and just listened, to ascertain whether my assessment was correct (it was) and to learn as much as possible from this unexpected opportunity.
    It was a long and disturbing discussion, and I was correct in my interpretation of their position. Republicans indeed and now very obviously want public education to cease to exist, and the reason is to have as much control over any and all narrative, facts, history, or any other facet of education that allows people to learn to think for themselves and stand up for good governance or any other aspect of personal intelligence that fosters critical thinking and deductive reasoning, and they are succeeding. The “dumbing-down of America” that began long ago is now on steroids. Ignorance must be bliss, but I prefer to be a thinking human being and attempt to use my mind for good, so I’ll never know. It’s actually painful to have a functioning brain now, but I’ll take pain over ignorance every time. The truth is the only thing that will set us free, even if the statement is a cliche`.

  24. Right after I read this post, there was another post in my email feed about a legal case asking if “College Accreditation is Constitutional” that was published as an opinion article in the Wall Street Journal and elsewhere. My understanding of the debate from the article is that federal aid for students can only be applied if a school is accredited and that accreditation is determined by a private entity that is not government.

    My first thought, was some level of accreditation is needed, otherwise there will be pop up schools that will exist just to gain access to federal aid, just like what is happening with vouchers in Indiana mentioned in this post. Plus, there are already a lot of questionable schools that seem to exist just to access student loans and other forms of financial aid.

    I will be honest that I truly don’t know how financial aid actually works for students, and unfortunately, I suspect that most people really do not either. Asking who gets to determine the standards for school aid is a fair question, but I feel like there is something bigger happening with this legal case and school aid and vouchers that worries me.

    Link to article written by Shannen W. Coffin and George Leef:

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