Indiana’s Senate Should Hang Tight..

Indiana’s legislature will end its current session this Saturday. (Your sigh of relief is appropriate.) Thus far–at least to the best of my knowledge–the House and Senate continue to disagree over whether to expand Indiana’s already far-too-generous school voucher program. The House wants to expand it; the Senate–mercifully–does not.

Vouchers were initially touted as a way to allow poor children to escape those “failing” public schools in order to improve educational outcomes. Enthusiasm for them waned as study after study rebutted virtually every argument for “school choice,” but lately–as the Right has trumpeted “parental rights” and attacked public schools as “woke”– proponents are once again having successes; South Carolina, for example, is expanding vouchers, and that state’s lawmakers are using the same dishonest rhetoric that Hoosier legislators employ.

SC senators that supported the bill for school choice vouchers spoke repeatedly about how they were motivated to help poor kids who were trapped in failing public schools and couldn’t afford other options. But on the last day of debate an amendment was filed to double the income threshold to help families making more than $100,000.

Just in case a member of Indiana’s Senate super-majority reads this blog and is on the fence about House efforts to sway the Senate, let me share a recent Time Magazine article by a professor of education policy at Michigan State, summarizing the multiple ways vouchers hurt students.The article begins by acknowledging the recent uptick in voucher programs, and notes that several states, including Indiana, have had such programs for several years. He then sets out what is known about the success or failure of these programs, asking “Do they work?” (The honest answer would be that these programs do achieve their actual goals: to funnel tax dollars to religious institutions, weaken or destroy teachers’ unions, and make war on the public schools.)

Of course, the purported goal of such programs is educational improvement. So what does the research have to say about that goal? The author of the article has studied school choice for nearly two decades, and–as he says–he’s in a good position to give an answer.

“Based on data from existing voucher programs, the answer is almost unambiguously negative.”

Let’s start with who benefits. First and foremost, the answer is: existing private school students. Small, pilot voucher programs with income limits have been around since the early 1990s, but over the last decade they have expanded to larger statewide initiatives with few if any income-eligibility requirements….In Arizona, more than 75% of initial voucher applicants had never been in public school—either because they were new kindergartners or already in private school before getting a voucher. That’s a problem because many voucher advocates market these plans as ways to improve educational opportunities for public school children.

For children who do transfer from a public school, the academic results are, in his words, “catastrophic.” 

 Although small, pilot-phase programs showed some promise two decades ago, new evaluations of vouchers in Washington, D.C., Indiana, Louisiana, and Ohio show some of the largest test score drops ever seen in the research record—between -0.15 and -0.50 standard deviations of learning loss. That’s on par with what the COVID-19 pandemic did to test scores, and larger than Hurricane Katrina’s impacts on academics in New Orleans.

It turns out that elite private schools with strong academics “often decline to participate in voucher plans. Instead the typical voucher school is a financially distressed, sub-prime private provider often jumping at the chance for a tax bailout to stay open a few extra years.”

In Wisconsin, 41% of voucher schools have closed since the program’s inception in 1990. And that includes the large number of pop-up schools opening just to cash in on the new voucher pay-out. For those pop-up schools, average survival time is just 4 years before their doors close for good.

The author cites data showing that 20% of students leave voucher programs each year, either because they are disappointed, or because the schools (which-unlike public schools–can choose their students) push them out.

That is what research on school vouchers tells us. Vouchers are largely tax subsidies for existing private school families, and a tax bailout for struggling private schools. They have harmful test score impacts that persist for years, and they’re a revolving door of school enrollment. They’re public funds that support a financially desperate group of private schools, including some with active discriminatory admissions in place.

I applaud the Indiana Senate’s uncommon case of good sense. The last thing Indiana needs is expansion of a failed program that enriches fundamentalist religious schools while weakening Indiana’s struggling  public education system.

Fingers crossed that the Senate’s unusual manifestation of good sense makes it to Saturday…


  1. I seem to remember something about Speaker Todd Huston having a personal interest in an increase of tax-payer money being used to increase the voucher program to virtual schools because of his connection to Stride and Spokenote as a consultant. Seems like a conflict of interest to me.

  2. Pesky facts vs. propaganda really are the undoing of all things political. Sheila calls it “dishonest rhetoric,” but it’s aimed at white people so they don’t feel like racist clan members.

    But if you look at the right-wing media, it’s all about giving parents a choice with their tax dollars. If true, why don’t we have “choices” with every tax dollar we spend? I abhor violence, so why will my tax dollars fund a war complex?

    Our modern-day body politic is performative, helped by propaganda media. Period. If the Indiana Senate and House disagree, it’s a show for voters – nothing else.

  3. I have often said that the “transition” from the Mayor Hudnut administration to the Goldsmith fiasco was a precursor to the Trump administration. Goldsmith’s first order to all city workers was to destroy all files and paperwork from the Hudnut administration, he had huge trash bins rolled into all offices to accomplish this. His second order from on high was “If it ain’t broke, break it!” What better way to break the public education system than to bleed it dry by supporting private (65% religious) schools throughout the state. Catholics I have known complain that their tax dollars are used to support public education so it is only fair that they receive tax dollars to support their religious education. Forgetting that private education is their choice and our tax dollars support their entire infrastructure system, including police and fire department protection, and have for many years.

    The Republican Indiana State Senate is again stopping the return of the 13th Check to over 45,000 public employee retirees which include public employees, teachers, judges, police officers, firefighters, Excise, Gaming & Conservation Officers, prosecutors and legislators. So, teachers are victimized coming and going. Being a Republican state for decades; I’m only guessing that the majority of the retirees are Republicans; they can’t even look into their own future of lowered retirement benefits.

  4. JoAnn has made the same charge against Goldsmith repeatedly. It’s a serious charge. How can we verify it decades later?

  5. I believe it is safe to assume the school voucher system was created by some powerful government officials after years of concern from the catholic schools their children attended were not receiving enough money from their congregations to financially keep the doors open. Those government reps or senators likely met with the priests and catholic school board members to devise an underhanded way to wring the necessary funding from the general public via tax dollars. ALEC staff was probably more than happy to create Bills and talking points for those state legislature members to present to their colleagues. Lo and behold the voucher system was off and running. Miracles really can happen! That is …… miracles can happen for people in power while the rest of us are told we must pay the bill for those miracles.

    I don’t know which state legislature created the school voucher system, but I do know Indiana’s was created while Daniels was governor and it increased under Pence. The wealthy Devos’ were highly involved in starting the IN voucher program. When pastor Pence threw his fake Christian principles out the window in order to become trump’s VP (no self- interest or power hunger involved at all) he and his aides were able to pick many, if not all, of trump’s cabinet members because trump had no clue. Pence’s dear friend Betsy Devos was obviously the absolute best choice for Secretary of Education. She traveled the country to espouse the imaginary benefits of school vouchers and the state legislatures and citizens listened. They either created new voucher systems or expanded the one they had.

    Meanwhile, back in DC she abused her power to ensure that innocent college students drowning with massive student loan debt due to attending worthless for-profit colleges could not be bailed out by the federal government. The fact that she and her husband invested in the companies that made those shark loans was merely incidental.

    There is so much more to this, but I will stop now. I’ve been trying to figure out what I can do to help end the destructive school voucher theft in Indiana, but it seems impossible with the gop run legislature.

  6. in NoDak,the legsilature decide against 10 million for private schools.while holding the teachers here at a near poverty wage, and the gov decided you should only abort before 6 weeks. this years snow/road maintence met a new low, after march 1 seems gorund treating or any plowing is done whenever the local highway shops decide of they want another cup of coffee before starting any maint vehicles. warning,dont drive here in the winter. SoDaks worse since their gestapo gov took office. if ya drive atruck,imagine a dispatcher telling you drive of get fired if the road is open and its glare ice. this is how trucking works. ive never met a boss yet who calls their reps and tell em about thier inability to provide a safe road.
    Bidens road work bill should hve included this issue.

  7. The fanciful rhetoric of debating efficacy of school vouchers is painful to listen to.

    The reason for the rhetoric is to avoid talking about the real issue insiders have known for a long time. Bullying. Yes, pure and simple, bullying.

    Parents and friend networks of parents felt a loss of control over the welfare of their children due to ineptness or indifference demonstrated by teachers and administration. And, yes, a lot of it is racism on hormones, and therefore, lofty rhetoric to dance around the real issues.

    When your child is denied access to a restroom by peer hooliganism and forced to soil their own clothing, that family and their friends who verified what happened head for the exits asap. The real truth is not raised anymore to protect victims and their friends until they have made arrangements to get them out safely. Any reason supported by lofty rhetoric will do as long as you do not discuss the truth when teachers and administration deny anything happened.

    It is not about teachers who are talented and can teach in public schools. There are many dedicated skilled teachers in public schools. The single biggest problem and issue is out of control bullying and inept administration who empower nothing more than benign indifference.

  8. it was drill baby drill, now its privtize baby privatize. the shareholders demand it..

  9. James, basically the entire legislature has conflicts of interest. They’re notorious for introducing bills that indirectly and often directly affect their own businesses and interests—Victoria Sparz was shamelessly promoting development on wetlands because her family stood to profit by that, and now that she’s moved on to the national stage, other “lawmakers” have picked up the torch for the same reasons. There’s nothing in the rules about such conflicts, and there never will be, with the exception of, if you can make a few bucks, introduce a bill and hope it passes.

  10. If there is compromise in the Conference Committee, and there most likely will be, look for it to go more the way of the House’s desires. The days of heal-dug-in R Senate leadership (Garton, Mills, Borst) are wanning.

  11. Wayne Moss;; why would I lie about those issues? Those of us who knew better hid files and documents on issues like Circle Centre Mall, Canal Walk, United Air Lines maintenance hub at the airport, Thomson Electronics, Metropolitan Development Commission issues and other ongoing works-in-progress till we knew who was safe to pass them along to. I was a problem for them because I outright refused to do their bidding regarding the Commission which was governed by state laws and I refused to break the law. Years of Commission records were hauled away from the storage area in our office and I was never told where to find them; I was Commission Records Secretary and past issues came up from time to time. I had to call Commission members regarding attendance at the twice monthly Commission meetings to assure a quarum and to take their lunch orders; Commissioners asked questions regarding an extension of a questionable contract and because I answered them truthfully (and was spied on by a co-worker); I was severely reprimanded and placed on a 30 day Performance Probation for not doing any work, having a bad attitude and for having surgery. I was advised to provide a response and sent a 5 page, single-spaced list of my duties and work schedule; that might still be in old personnel files. Somehow my name was given out to all who had legal problems with Goldsmith’s no-bid contract handouts and other actions because others in City Departments refused to comply with the public information act; including a law suit Goldsmith filed against the Commission President. The TV and newspaper reporters who tried to get information had to meet with City Legal and one of the Deputy Directors in DMD to file their complaint; they repeatedly complained about lack of any information being provided by anyone in the City-County Building by anyone but JoAnn Green. I have no way to document this for you all these years later; my comments and my comparison to Trump’s administration stand. Maybe Paul K. Ogden can find some information for you; he is our token Republican here.

  12. What Nancy said – and – I think it is beyond hypocritical for legislators to disguise their wrongful use of taxpayer funds in education under the phony banner of “parental rights,” and worse, one study after another in re educational outcomes shows that such legislators are wasting our tax money since public schools do a much better job of educating children than voucher/religious schools. What’s next? Shall parents decide whether to pay their taxes or stop at stop signs? Where does this use of “parental rights” cover by legislators end, or does it?

  13. The voucher system began right after the Brown v. Board ruling. It was sold as a way for southern Governors to insure that public schools were underfunded and segregated by race. Milton Friedman introduced the ideas and Jim Crow furthered its popularity, especially in former Confederacy states. The current iteration of his ideas are enshrined in EdChoice, headquartered in Indianapolis.
    From Indiana Capital Chronicle, Feb, 17, 2023
    “Expanded eligibility for the Choice Scholarship program — which allows families to receive vouchers to attend private schools — would raise the income ceiling to 400% of the amount required for a student to qualify for the federal free or reduced price lunch program, equal to about $220,000.

    Currently, vouchers are limited to families that make less than 300% of the free or reduced lunch income level are eligible, meaning a family of four can make up to $154,000 annually.

    After the expansion, the program would cost the state an estimated $500 million in fiscal year 2024, and another $600 million in the following fiscal year. The current state budget appropriates $240 million annually for the Choice Scholarships.

    The new voucher dollars account for roughly a third of the $2 billion in new, additional state funds that House Republicans want to earmark for K-12 education over the biennium.

  14. Political BS is always difficult to listen to!
    The problem is that too many people’s biases and stupidity
    set them up to buy, happily buy, into the fantasy.

  15. Well, that didn’t take long. The Senate folded. The voucher program will once again be expanded–and Indiana schoolchildren–in public schools or private– will once again be shortchanged.

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