When I read the June 2d issue of the Indiana Business Journal, I fumed.
An editorial by current Lt. Governor and 2024 gubernatorial candidate Suzanne Crouch was titled “Why I support Universal School Choice for Hoosier Families.” Of course, “school choice” sounds way nicer than “Why I support destroying Indiana’s public schools,” or “Why I support school vouchers despite overwhelming evidence that they don’t deliver educational benefits, are socially divisive, and are a huge taxpayer subsidy to religious institutions.”
If you doubt the accuracy of that last statement, the IBJ helpfully included lists of Indiana’s largest private primary and secondary schools. Only four of the 25 primary schools listed were not religious–Park Tudor, Orchard, Sycamore and the International School. Park Tudor–a very expensive private school ($25,930 a year!)– doesn’t accept vouchers. Sycamore limits enrollment to gifted and talented children, and the International School also appeals to a specialized constituency.
All of the other schools on a list headed by the Oaks Academy and Heritage Christian School are either Catholic, or conservative or fundamentalist Christian.
When it comes to the 19 secondary schools, only three–Park Tudor, University High School and the International School–are secular.
I have posted numerous times about the myriad ways in which advocates of “privatization” and “choice” in education have contributed to the hollowing out of America’s civic structure. (If you type “vouchers” into the search bar at the top right of this blog, you”ll get more data than you probably want to absorb…)
I’ve linked to studies showing that fundamentalist Christian schools are teaching creationism rather than science, and whitewashing history. Science denial and bogus history are unlikely to prepare students for life in contemporary American society.
I’ve linked to various lawsuits challenging religious discrimination practiced by religious “academies.” Significant numbers of those schools refuse to enroll gay children, or children of gay parents.
I have pointed out that vouchers shortchange rural residents and those in small towns, where there aren’t enough students to support alternative, private schools, and Indiana’s voucher program deprives their public schools of desperately needed funds.
I have echoed knowledgable others, like Doug Masson, who points out that pious rhetoric about giving options to poor minority children “trapped” in those terrible public schools is nothing more than a scam.
Back in 2019, Indiana’s voucher program cost taxpayers $161.4 million; by 2025 it will cost $600 million. And forget “poor children.” Indiana’s voucher program disproportionately serves upper-middle-class white children, a majority of whom are clearly not “escaping failing schools” because–despite lawmakers’ original promises– they never attended public school.
As Doug Masson wrote about that 2019 report:
This reinforces my view that the real intention of voucher supporters was and is: 1) hurt teacher’s unions; 2) subsidize religious education; and 3) redirect public education money to friends and well-wishers of voucher supporters. Also, a reminder: vouchers do not improve educational outcomes. I get so worked up about this because the traditional public school is an important part of what ties a community together — part of what turns a collection of individuals into a community. And community feels a little tough to come by these days. We shouldn’t be actively eroding it.
“Choice” sounds great. Providing citizens with a wide freedom of choice–of religion, politics, lifestyle– is a quintessentially American goal. But voucher programs are evidence that institutionalized choices can also promote division and undermine civic cohesion.
In far too many communities today, the “educational choice” being offered is the opportunity to shield one’s children from intellectual and cultural diversity. Vouchers provide parents with tax dollars that allow them to insulate their children from one of the very few remaining “street corners” left in contemporary American society. Whatever their original intent, vouchers today are mechanisms allowing parents to remove their children from public school classrooms and classmates that may be conveying information incompatible with those parents’ beliefs and prejudices.
That an otherwise credible candidate for Indiana Governor wants to make support for increased tribalism “universal” is appalling. At best, it tells me that Crouch is totally unfamiliar with the educational and social science research; at worst, it’s a sign that she is competing for the Christian Nationalist vote that is so large a component of today’s GOP.
It goes without saying that if Mike Braun emerges as the Republican nominee for Governor, he will double down on Crouch’s position.
Speaking of “choice”– Hoosiers have one next year.
One of the many reasons I have been so impressed with Jennifer McCormick, the Democrat running for Governor, is that–after trying to protect Indiana’s public schools as a Republican Superintendent of Public Instruction– she left a political party intent upon destroying public education.
Every schoolteacher in Indiana–and every citizen who understands the importance of America’s public schools–should choose to vote McCormick.