Calling Out The Lie

It appears that the World’s Worst Legislature is succeeding in its goal of destroying–or at least fatally wounding– public education in the Hoosier state. An inconvenient side-effect of that success is the now-clear evidence that initial arguments for the state’s voucher program were always bogus.

Participation in Indiana’s taxpayer-funded private school voucher program jumped to the highest level since its start over a decade ago – even as the number of low-income and families of color using vouchers decreased. 

According to a new state report, the Choice Scholarship Program totaled $311.8 million in grants for 53,262 students in the 2022-23 academic year. That’s 9,000 students and $70.4 million more than the previous school year. 

But those increases will be dwarfed over the next two years, as nearly all Indiana students will become eligible for vouchers in the coming weeks. Those changes, enacted by new state law, are estimated to qualify 41,800 additional students for the program and cost $1.136 billion in total.

Those of us who have followed the General Assembly’s persistent efforts to privatize education will recall the original, pious justifications for “school choice.” Vouchers, they assured us, were a mechanism that would allow poor minority students to leave those underperforming “urban” (read “ghetto”) schools. The educational voucher program was sold as an effort to “level the playing field” for the underprivileged.

Right–and I have a bridge to sell you…

What also proved to be untrue was the claim that vouches would improve educational outcomes. Years of academic research–previously shared on this blog and elsewhere–have demolished the claim that the “private” (basically, religious) schools benefitting from those vouchers would do a better job of imparting academic skills. 

In the face of incontrovertible evidence that vouchers are actually used by middle and upper-middle class families–a significant number of whom had been paying to send their kids to private schools before our legislative overlords kindly eased their financial burden–and similarly overwhelming evidence that educational outcomes were not improving, the justification changed.

Now it’s enabling “parental rights.”

(I will restrain myself from pointing out how hypocritical Republicans are when they talk about “choice” and parental rights….parents who might want to take their kids to Drag Queen story hour, or who want them to learn accurate American history sure don’t get rights or respect for their choices…but I digress.)

As with other policies flying in the face of evidence, the GOP’s fondness for vouchers can best be understood if we follow the money.

In Indiana,

In the program’s 12th year, the average student is described as White, elementary school-age, and from a household of around four people with an income of $81,818, according to the Indiana Department of Education. Indiana’s median household income is around $62,000.

The report found the high-income eligibility likely led to the 9.3 percent decrease in the number of participating families with an income of $50,000 or less. Families earning $100,001 to $150,000 saw the largest increase in voucher use at about 8.4 percent.

As the Indianapolis Star reported,

The increase in participation will likely only continue in the coming years now that the state legislature expanded the income limit threshold to 400% of the free-and-reduced-lunch threshold, enabling a family of four making $220,000 a year to get a voucher, whereas the program currently cuts off families of that size at an income of $166,500.

It’s interesting that the Hoosier lawmakers who are so generous to upper-income constituents when it comes to siphoning students from the public schools suddenly become “fiscally conservative” when it comes to helping poor Hoosiers. Look, for example, at the income limits for pre-school vouchers. Those are limited to families with household income below 127% of the federal poverty limit, or about $32,700 for a family of four — and in order to be  eligible, parents must be working, attending school or participating in some sort of job training.

In Indiana, government works best for the well-off. It’s a lot more punitive when dealing with the working poor.

The worst part of this travesty , however, isn’t fiscal. It isn’t even the substandard educational results provided by those private “academies.” It’s the deepening of social polarization, the deliberate encouragement of tribalism.

Public education–as political scientist Benjamin Barber emphasized–is constitutive of a public.In an interview before he died, Barber cited Jefferson:

Jefferson saw a profound connection between the Bill of Rights — the document embodying the rights of citizens — and education as the foundation which made democracy work and made the Bill of Rights work. The founding of the common school, the public school, in America was for Jefferson the foundation for an effective and successful democracy. I think we have lost sight of the connection between the schooling, citizenship and democracy.

In an increasingly fragmented and hostile America, that connection is more important than ever. Indiana’s GOP supermajority doesn’t understand that. Or care.


  1. If young people get exposed to thoughtful ideas and learn to think for themselves and have equal opportunities for a solid education they would not vote for the Republicans, or go to an evangelical church and pay their tithes, so of course the GOP and the Church cannot have that.

  2. I’ll have to read IndyStar’s article to see where they got their stats because over here in Delaware County, they don’t collect those numbers. Republicans are really good at hiding their tracks by not collecting data to cast blame via propaganda.

    Isn’t that right, Paul? Lol

    They dropped the curtain on this one because stat’s were being compiled nonetheless, and the evidence was clear. Segregation came out from the dark. The working poor can’t shuttle their kids from one school to another. They have to use the bussing system.

    Don’t get caught in traffic in Delaware County around our shiny white county school systems just outside the City. How does the situation of your car outside a private school or county school help with the ozone problems we’ve been having? Sorry, I digress!

    When you live in a country where Money Matters over everything, this sentence of Sheila’s stands out for everything:

    “As with other policies flying in the face of evidence, the GOP’s fondness for vouchers can best be understood if we follow the money.”

    This is why the GOP and DNC use misnamed titles for bills and propaganda media who pass along their press release bait as facts for citizens to gobble up.

    It’s been about segregation from day one.

  3. “Those of us who have followed the General Assembly’s persistent efforts to privatize education will recall the original, pious justifications for “school choice.”

    privatize: transfer (a business, industry or service) from public to private ownership and control.

    The state voucher systems are not transferring the public “service” of education; only the public money providing that service to the private sector which are the private, primarily religious education systems. There is no legal or Constitutional basis for the voucher system; hence the lie. This state level lie has been called out and ignored to aid and abet the foundation of lies the current Republican party is based on. To kill a snake, you must cut off its head; we must begin by replacing Republican governors and state level Legislations to reach the U.S. level snakes by “Calling Our The Lie” at that level. The federal government must rein in state control over use of tax dollars the majority of the public is against.

    “In an increasingly fragmented and hostile America, that connection is more important than ever. Indiana’s GOP supermajority doesn’t understand that.”

  4. “In the program’s 12th year, the average student is described as White…”

    Well, duh, maybe that’s because there are a lot more white students in Indiana’s K-12 schools than black students. That’s a very misleading use of statistics by the Star.

    I don’t know the numbers on Indiana’s voucher program. But I have seen the statistics on Indiana’s charter school program and the percent of students who attend charter schools is considerably higher than traditional charter schools. This is from Ball State:

    “The majority of charter schools have high minority enrollment, often exceeding 60%, and high enrollment from students living in poverty, as defined by free or reduced lunch status, with nearly half of the total charter school enrollment meeting the criteria.”

    I can’t believe people would actually want to turn back the clock so that poor families have no choice for their children’s education other than their neighborhood public school. I can’t imagine anything that would be more unpopular than to strip educational choice from parents.

  5. Todd,

    How does giving educational choice to minority parents, so they can send their kids to any school they want, including majority white schools outside their neighborhoods, increase school segregation? The answer is that it does not. There is zero proof of that.

    Years ago, I remember debating this issue with many of my friends on the far right of the political spectrum. They were adamantly opposed to school choice because they were/are racists and they did not want minority students attending previously lilly-white K-12 schools. I remember one of them saying how horrible it would be if white student Johnny were sitting in a class next to a black student.

  6. On previous post, I meant to say “the percent of students who attend charter schools is considerably higher than traditional public schools.” Wish I had an edit button.

  7. Don’t think for a minute that the GOP supermajority doesn’t understand the connection between schooling, citizenship and democracy. If we had a democracy, they would never be a supermajority. They play the long game and, if it takes 20 years, that’s fine. Understand that and watch their patterns emerge.

  8. Paul writes, “How does giving educational choice to minority parents, so they can send their kids to any school they want, including majority white schools outside their neighborhoods, increase school segregation?”

    I believe Sheila’s post today destroys that myth you and the GOP have conjured up from day 1.

    It’s funny you quote BSU because they put out a video when taking over Muncie Community Schools that the school system was hemorrhaging cash due to white kids leaving the district for county schools. One hand-picked community leader after another claimed BSU would bring expert leadership and stop the whitening of county schools.

    Five years later…the whitening continues.

    Minority students get stuck because they are less mobile. Period.

  9. “In an increasingly fragmented and hostile America, that connection (between the Bill of Rights and education) is more important than ever. Indiana’s GOP supermajority doesn’t understand that. Or care.”
    They do know, and they do care. An uneducated public is easier to manipulate, and if you can manage to indoctrinate children via the schools systems—authoritarian governments in other countries operate thus—all the better.
    Meanwhile, I’m scratching my head over how Paul could read your blog and somehow come out on the complete opposite side of the equation.

  10. Heather Richardson Cox had an interesting blog post about child labor laws. Starting in the 1900’s several attempts were made to implement child labor laws through the Interstate Commerce Act, by prohibiting the movement of goods across state lines if child labor was used in the production. The courts repeatedly struck this down. At the time companies used the cheap child labor to depress wages and suppress the formation of unions, since children were not allowed to join a union. Finally with the sweeping social reform of the New Deal, the idea that having children in school to create educated citizens was more important to the country than cheap labor. By the way, if you thought this was a perfect solution, there was a big carve out to exempt farm labor. The target of this exception was black field hands mainly in the south.

    Since the countries founding, but especially since the New Deal when the government took on more of the obligations of social and economic equality, we have considered education vitally important. It seems the Republican party is looking back to the “Great” (as in MAGA) years of the 1900’s where large portions of population were un or under educated.

    This attack on public education is win-win-win for Republicans. It tears down one more piece of the Deep State government (ie schools), it lowers the education level of future voters making them more easily bamboozled by lying politicians, and it shifts tax dollars to cronies and religious organizations.

    FYI… There is currently a bill in congress to address the farming child labor exceptions, because now they are being exploited mainly to the detriment of hispanic immigrants.

  11. Paul, Do you not know the difference between charter schools and private schools?

  12. About those minority students attending any school outside their neighborhoods and increasing segregation, Paul, minorities are generally people of color who are also people living on low income levels who cannot provide transportation for their children outside their neighborhoods. Many whites are included in those same neighborhoods living with the same financial limitations; lowering quality public education in gerrymandered neighborhoods, keeps them under-educated in K-12 and lowering the ability to seek or qualify for higher education.

    And Paul, your second paragraph response to Todd reads like the early transition to busing and “…debating this issue with many of my friends on the far right of the political spectrum. They were adamantly opposed to school choice because they were/are racists and they did not want minority students attending previously lilly-white K-12 schools.” I openly opposed busing at the 2nd meeting to allow “colored” children in my neighborhood to attend the all white school 2 blocks from their home rather than walking 6 or more blocks to an integrated school. Neighborhoods were beginning to become racially mixed and the percentages of all neighborhood children attending their neighborhood school would have increased as the neighborhoods became more racially mixed. Children of all races were deprived of after school activities due to busing schedules; there was also the problem of a child becoming ill in the school they were bused to and parents who didn’t have a vehicle to pick them up who had to call a taxi or take a bus the the school (if available to them) to bring them home. Political numbers, race and economics are the basis of busing and vouchered students. Considered benefits for the children were not considered. White privilege and money!

    The first city-wide meeting regarding the transition to busing was held (if I remember correctly) was at Arlington High School. I attended and was met the heavily armed and well protected SWAT Indianapolis Police Department Officers. One officer was a friend; he said they were expecting violence and were prepared to meet it.

  13. Ain’t it ironic that the same folks who virulently oppose “handouts” like Medicaid to the poor have no issue with handing out vouchers to the doing fines?

  14. The World’s Worst State Legislature and many people, including some of the commenters here do not seem to know that “choice” in public schools does nothing to improve a childs academic achievement. A kid in poverty will wake up in poverty and go home after school to poverty and that cannot change by sending a kid to a private or charter school. Thus the data that shows virtually no change in test scores when kids go to the “choice school.” Our man Mitch and all of the education clowns in his car that started all of this choice BS, knew nothing about Indiana’s high child poverty rate, poor nutrition and virtually no health care, all which have an impact on how a child learns. Throwing tax dollars at private schools is much like pissing in the wind. Eventually it will blow up on our face when a large portion of our population realize the State robbed our children of their education by taking funds away from public schools.

    The legislature threw a bunch of money at public schools for 24-25 but after that it will be cut off and public schools will be paying for those well off white folks to send their children to $28K per year private schools. And the parents and kids in Ohio County or Jasper County or Vermillion or Pike County will have no idea that they are paying for that $28K/year private school.

  15. Lots of hot air and pearl clutching today. Maybe it would be better for the Indiana Republicans (Democrats seem to have no voice in Indiana government) to spend those billions of dollars on UPGRADING THE “URBAN” SCHOOLS AND PAY THE TEACHERS A LIVING WAGE.

    But I do drone on about what should be. As long as Republicans are in charge of anything, it will fail, and fail badly.


  16. Mr. Ogden. “Out of the nearly 100 charters that have opened in the county since 2001, when the state passed a law allowing charters, 31 have closed.” IndyStar

    Where do you think the millions lost in those failed schools, some of which never enrolled a single student, went? It was not back into the state’s coffers.

    Citing anything from Ball State is questionable. Koch money has compromised their reputation for unbiased source work.

  17. We pay taxes and trust that our money will fund the common good — law enforcement, roads and bridges, public services and, most importantly, PUBLIC education. The Indy Star’s excellent reporting on vouchers demonstrates that our taxes for education are not being used for the common good but to undermine our public schools, which were once the pride of our democracy. The trust with citizens like me — property owner, taxpayer, no children in school — has been violated. Where is my choice?

  18. Paul, the use of White to describe the majority of charter students, was not a “misleading use of statistics”, but rather a statement of fact, which you admit. You seem to see a racist statement where none exists. Jeez. Sheila’s blog is right-on, and even TS speaks some sense today.

  19. I will let Mr. Beverage answer the issue for me. He belonged to the Republican Party that Sheila, also, once did:

    Albert Beverage, (R.In.), in 1906, regarding a child labor act he’d introduced in congress: “We cannot permit any man or corporation to stunt the bodies, minds, and souls of American children,” Beveridge said. “We cannot thus wreck the future of the American Republic.”

  20. Janet: Your choice is at the polls. I have been disgusted for years at the use of “parental rights” and other such democratic sounding phrases to cover for constitutional violations, especially in the realm of education. These super majority politicians in charge of our purse strings couldn’t care less about “parental rights;” they care about keeping a good thing going for reelection in their gerrymandered world, a world in which gerrymandering has ended or badly damaged the fundamental right (we thought) of majority rule in a democracy, and one in which even stare decisis doesn’t help since state supreme courts seem to have engaged in the fiction of legislation naming and supposed grounds therefor in establishing their own little precedents. So what to do?

    To do: Vote. Change super majorities.

  21. At times, about some subjects, I can be (oddly?) optimistic. At other times, on other subjects, my cynicism wins out easily.

    Regarding your Indiana politicians, the latter case reigns. I suspect the key political players understand exactly what the consequences are, and care deeply about them, which is why they are pushing the agenda so hard.

    That’s half of it. The other half is money (of course). See? Cynical.

  22. 23 years ago I was proud to say I had served in the Indiana legislature. Now I’d almost deny it to avoid the affiliation.

  23. I am not really prepared to compare or debate the statistics, and I certainly agree that Indiana’s implementation of vouchers/charter schools is unwise and unfair. I think there may be another side to the argument about charter schools in general. If you care to review it, you might want to read the third national charter school study from scholars at Stanford University’s Center for Research on Education Outcomes (CREDO). For at least some people in the field of education, the evidence is improving for charters.

  24. As Theresa pointed out earlier, it’s important to distinguish charters from the private schools that accept vouchers. Charters are PUBLIC schools. Students do not pay to attend them. Unfortunately, some charters have employed for-profit firms to manage them, blurring the distinction, but it is a mistake to conflate charters with the mostly religious private schools that benefit from voucher programs.

  25. One of the reasons that catholics sent their kids to catholic schools was on average they had a lot more kids than the average american family and the catholic kids w

    With voucher monies going into private schools I would hope there are laws prohibiting putting 60 kids into one classroom. The kids in those schools are Americans and deserve to know their rights. Just wondering what happened to the property taxes that Catholic families paid and didn’t take advantage of in sending their kids to public schools pre voucher? Looks to me that people who went to public school enjoyed a more broad minded and stronger self-image than parochial schools imparted to their students. Also seems to me what is most important is what and how it is taught and how the students are treated, like teach kids how to think not necessarily what to think. Being able to fully appreciate democracy in an authoritarian system is a problem. I would hope that democracy/civics classes would be a requirement going along with the voucher money. My guess is that compliance to civic oversight would be more agreeable to the schools than giving up the voucher money? Learning to be a good American is a constant progressive endeavor.

  26. Working to understand today’s blog and accompanying comments is essential to grasp on-going dangers of governance gone terribly wrong. Each of us is affected every day by the vast negative consequences of the antics of myriad misguided leaders who seem to gleefully endorse and depend on nastiness to create apparent success – for themselves. Education is a giant, lucrative target – many of you have cited important problems with continued attacks on public education on this site.

    Learning about pervasive damage to student learning, subsequent poor outcomes, and their awful effects on society’s health is necessary to do, but discouraging in the extreme. I have come to believe (and seriously temper any hope for change) that racism remains the base of our nation’s strong determination to maintain a caste system that, as this blog and other forums perpetually call out, causes and cements in place the inequities of our (USA and Canadian) cultures.

    Further, the obscured origins of many social ills – virulent anti-abortion, school busing, red-lining, over-active religious hysteria – all of it, can be traced to racism (here I’m retreading well worn paths, articulated far better by many of you and others). I am amazed by the through lines – Jimmy Carter as a one term president…his attempt to change the tax status of the ‘academies’ created to dodge the effects of Brown vs the Board (also, connected to anti-abortion). I long ago began to view much of the negative churn around educational issues as unending efforts to permanently disable that decision. I think all of us could identify any number of such efforts in our own localities. Comments today have helped me specifically differentiate between Charter and Voucher schools, an important difference that had become mushed in my head.

    There are plenty of issues interfering with learning in public schools (in the USA and Canada), including early (Taylor, circa 1930) efforts to design high school as a reflection of a Ford factory – seeing education’s primary purpose as facilitation of industrialization; the belief that testing and accountability are synonymous; disrespect for teachers (originally a woman’s job…) poor, inconsistent funding; lack of autonomy for teachers, schools, the entire enterprise; ill informed and ill advised parental interference – an ever lengthening roster.

    Here are a few sources that may be of interest in this discussion: (apologies for lack of ‘clickability’)

    -What ‘A Nation At Risk’ Got Wrong, And Right, About U.S. Schools
    April 29, 2018, 6:00 AM ET; By Anya Kamenetz
    -The Credo Report cited herein by Jerold at 12:54 pm
    -Wilkerson, Isabel. Caste: The Origins of our Discontents. Random House. New York. 2020

  27. Yes vouchers AND charter schools discriminate. In the past, my own examination of charter data showed that when a charter school had 60% minirity enrollment, neighboring traditional
    public schools hand 80% or higher minority enrollment and often little or no enrollment of special ed. or non- English speaking students – also unlike nearby public schools.

    Voucher schools are overwhelmingly religious schools which have always discriminated in enrollment to preference those from their own church, who can afford it, who have their own transportation, and those who don’t need specialized services like bi- lingual or special education.
    When charter schools we’re first authorized in Indiana, it was during a recession. Parents of private school students flicked to charters to save tuition costs. Private school enrollments dropped dramatically to a fraction of previous enrollments. Vouchers passed to restore those enrollments with the claim that they were for students s trapped in failing schools. BUT that claim was always a falsehood. Legislators refused to put that criteria into writing in the statutes for either charter or voucher schools. That might lower the charter or voucher schools’ test scores.
    Lt. Gov Suzanne Crouch recently stated her support for universal vouchers for all families regardless of wealth. Even though she has sent her own children to parochial schools, I was stunned by her statement. Taxing poor families to subsidize enrollment of the wealthiest families’ children in discriminatory private schools doesn’t seem the sort of thing Jesus would do. So I have to wonder what Christian values are these churches and schools teaching.

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