Another Day, Another Voucher Study…

Okay–I know it’s just one more time beating that horse (an animal quite probably dead by now…), but I can’t resist. Brookings has just issued yet another study confirming the educational downsides of voucher programs.

The study was prompted by the recent expansion of voucher programs and “education savings accounts,” (ESAs) which are functionally the same thing–the use of public money to allow parents to send their children to private schools. That expansion has occurred primarily in states that voted for Trump in 2020, which should be a clue that these programs are based on ideology; their proponents simply ignore that pesky inconvenient thing called evidence.

(The Brookings report has multiple links to the previous academic research on each of the following points; I’m not including them, but if you click through, you will be able to easily access them.)

This study confirms a number of the findings of previous research: for example,  that after expansion of a voucher program or implementation of an ESA, pop-up schools immediately appear, many of which will close rather quickly, and that existing private schools raise their tuition.

The study notes that a decade of research has confirmed that vouchers reduce student academic achievement. Brookings cites studies from Louisiana and Indiana, among others, that found quite substantial declines in student test scores. (Indiana’s pathetic legislature simply ignored the fact that Indiana’s voucher program had demonstrably failed to perform as promised. In its recent session, the legislature made the program available to virtually  all of Indiana’s schoolchildren, and is now promoting it heavily.)

Perhaps because the reality fails to match the rhetoric, exit rates from the private schools accepting vouchers are high; in Indiana, as in several other states, some 20% of students who use a voucher to enroll in a private school depart every year–and interestingly, their return to public schooling improves their academic performance.

The research also notes the high percentage of private schools that are religious, but fails to make a point that I consider pivotal: when students leave public educational institutions where–despite residential segregation–they are more likely to interact with children whose races, cultures and religions differ from their own than in the more racially and religiously segregated voucher schools, their “tribal” identities are strengthened. That lack of diversity not only hampers their later interactions in a diverse society, it fosters precisely the sorts of polarization that bedevil contemporary society.

A problem that was highlighted in the research was the lack of accountability of these private schools, both educational and fiscal. In Arizona, “educational” costs that have been reimbursed under their program have been, shall we say, questionable, and  in North Carolina, schools have claimed payment for more vouchers than students actually used. (While this study didn’t mention the problem, others have noted that a lack of public reporting requirements  makes it very difficult for parents to determine how well a given private school is really performing. Too often, they end up making a choice based upon surface impressions–or more frequently, PR and marketing.)

As the study concludes, recent expansions of these programs will test prior findings–one of which, interestingly, is that “the larger the program, the worse the results.”

What is so discouraging about the persistent Red state expansions of these voucher programs is that these legislatures utterly ignore credible research, and–rather than applying those millions of tax dollars to the improvement of public education–throw millions of dollars into programs that demonstrably do not improve academic outcomes.

When voucher programs were first introduced, they were promoted as a way to allow poor children to leave failing urban schools. Recent program expansions have given the lie to that original argument; virtually every child in Indiana (and elsewhere) now qualifies to use public money to attend private schools–very much including children who had never attended a public school, and whose parents had previously been paying private school tuition.

Perhaps some of the proponents of vouchers remain unaware of the mountains of evidence and truly believe the hype. But given the other research I’ve cited about the segregating effects of educational “choice,” you’ll forgive me if I am cynical.


  1. “The study notes that a decade of research has confirmed that vouchers reduce student academic achievement. Brookings cites studies from Louisiana and Indiana, among others, that found quite substantial declines in student test scores. (Indiana’s pathetic legislature simply ignored the fact that Indiana’s voucher program had demonstrably failed to perform as promised. In its recent session, the legislature made the program available to virtually all of Indiana’s schoolchildren, and is now promoting it heavily.)”

    What further proof do voters need that Republicans are spearheading the Dumbing Down of America is a deliberate action and aiding only those who are reaping the profits primarily for religious schools?

  2. The Voucher program created by the Worst State Legislature in the World effects every student in the state of Indiana. Many people do not understand that funds for vouchers are taken from the K-12 Public school budget that reduces the amount of funds in every public school corporation. Some of our smallest school corporations lose hundreds of thousands of public school funds to pay for private schools in Indianapolis and other large cities in the state. For example Pike County was denied $400,000, Kosiusko County lost $3,000,000, Orange County had nearly 1 million taken from their funds and Dubois County where I live, lost over $900,000. Many of the counties that lose the most funds don’t have any private schools in that county. The pain inflicted on our public schools will get worse because of the expansion of vouchers that allows nearly anyone, regardless of income to get a voucher to pay for an expensive private school.

    Adding to the pain of lost funding is the fact that private schools have no accountability, none. The money can be spent of multi-million dollar sports stadiums, or textbooks that “indoctrinate” students. The lack of accountability allows my tax dollars to be used for discrimination and the literal persecution of anyone that is not wealthy and white.

    I don’t know how to get people to stop supporting this disgusting voucher program, but I do know if we make sure everyone knows how much their local school lose to support vouchers, it might have some impact. You can find how much your school corporation loses on Dr. Phil Down’s website,

  3. I’m not sure if this is relevant, but my daughter (aged around 4-5 years) was a student at a really good Montessori school convenient to my work. The problem we perceived was the student body was almost exclusively white, wealthy, and from my area’s elite community – Palm Beach. Since we lived in a more rural environment, the public elementary school provided a very diverse student population and teachers. We felt this would prepare her for the future America that we anticipated, and I am very happy we made that decision – so, by the way, is she now middle-aged and comfortable within a diverse population.

  4. There are two reasons that the voucher programs are so popular in Republican-dominated states. First, much if not most of the money goes to parochial schools, even though the Constitutions of most states prohibit using public money to bolster religious organizations. Second, slashing the budgets for public school systems ends up forcing them to reduce the number of teachers on staff, most of whom are members of teacher unions. So the goobers in the legislatures go out to the suckers who vote for them and brag about how they are promoting religion and hurting unions. And the suckers eat that up.

  5. But the right-wingers who are paid by the for-profit education industry will continue to try to bilk the public for the mother-lode of money. They care not a whit about the quality of education. So, naturally, the Republicans – still festering from the carbuncle attack of Friedman economics – belly up to this bar as they obey their paymasters’ desires.

    In case anyone forgot, it was the Reagan administration that tried to eliminate public education and embraced the disastrous “supply-side” economics, aka, trickle-down. It was/is the biggest scam until Trump.

  6. Talk to the voters who support those legislators and you will find that they just won’t believe that it’s a detriment to education. We have witnessed over the past three years, that facts don’t matter.

  7. As Teresa and Pascal state, these are not-so-nice people using “choice” to destroy public education and hurt unions. Meanwhile, the unions in this state sit on their hands instead of doing what their collective power can accomplish.

    In our county, these programs are used for segregation – parents are choosing predominately white schools over blended programs. Do you think the parents are silent in front of their children about why they are being driven to other school systems?

    Of course not!

    It’s how generational racism is passed along. And, as for private schools, I’ve been told the kids being transferred back to public schools must be tutored because they’ve fallen behind the public school kids. More resources are needed to bring them back into the fold. That isn’t very conservative, but it was never about choice or conservatism – it’s about racism and hurting teacher’s unions.

  8. Right on, Vernon!

    Question: Why are people of color voting for Republicans?

    I cannot grasp this mentality. It’s like having tenure and not standing up to censorship. What gives?

  9. “…rather than applying those millions of tax dollars to the improvement of public education–throw millions of dollars into programs that demonstrably do not improve academic outcomes.” That’s been my biggest gripe since the voucher system was introduced many years ago. I’m a die-hard skeptic by nature, and from day one I saw vouchers as the means to the end of destroying public education.

    My daughter, back in the late ‘70s-mid ‘80s, attended a private Jewish day school in Indianapolis for her pre school and early elementary years. There were no vouchers then; the school offered scholarships to families who couldn’t afford the tuition (gasp!). By the time she reached 4th grade, she wanted a more diverse experience, and although we loved the school, she transitioned to the public schools, so we’ve experienced the best of both worlds. She now lives in the Rogers Park area of Chicago, with 3 school-age children, and she’s a fierce and outspoken and active advocate for public schools there. I’m very proud of her.

  10. Todd,

    You’re right about asking why certain groups vote for Republicans. It’s like watching vampires eat garlic. Somewhere along the way they were taught to vote or opt against their own best interests. Propaganda run amok.

  11. The “tribal identity” was very strong when I went to Catholic school in the 60s-early 70s. We were taught that it was the one, true religion; there was definitely a sense of being in a tight community, and the best one. What kid wouldn’t think that’s cool? And a majority of those kids continue through adulthood with that same perception….and, here we are.

  12. Indiana’s despicable and amoral republican majority state legislature used ALEC’s lies to steal and reroute public school funds to Catholic, Evangelical and for-profit private schools. The most illegal part of this theft scheme is that the legislature doesn’t require any financial accountability to the taxpayers. To my knowledge, every other government funded entity must provide the state and the public with detailed reports on exactly what every dollar is spent on. This is still required of public school systems.

    I would love to be a member of a Class Action Lawsuit against the IN legislature for spending tax revenue without accountability. If you are an attorney reading this comment, can you confirm that the state legislature must require financial accountability for the use of any and all tax revenue? If not, then can you explain how the legislature is getting away with such brazen theft?

  13. “The forest was shrinking but the trees kept voting for the ax because its handle was made of wood and they thought it was one of them.”
    “If America cannot destroy ignorance, ignorance will destroy America.” W. E .B. Dubois
    There is also the point of the phrase, “Follow the money.”
    So, the Republican party has been running on e scam, or another since St.Reagan was elected, well, a actually before that.

  14. I want to see religious leaders in the forefront of the drive to attain true separation of religion and government. How can they be so blind to the inevitability of religions being pitted against each other when religion and government meld? The end result has always been religious war. When each religion, sect and denomination start competing for government money and power, how can it be otherwise?

  15. Why are some of us professing shock and surprise that a racist/religious political party is spending taxpayer money on a mixed public/non-public venture, an educational venture where the result of such spending is demonstrably worse and where all Hoosier taxpayers are forced to contribute to religion under the guise of a wrongly-held state supreme court holding that education is a parental concern and therefore parents are entitled to name the system (however inferior as to result) that will “educate” their children? It is bad enough to be forced to contribute to such a system but even worse that the result is inferior to the public system that should be in place, and given such knowledge, it is not the parents who will suffer from such inferior training and lack of exposure to the coming world of multicultural reality, it is their children – and an argument could be made that such parents are engaging in child endangerment.

  16. Mitch D.,

    The Republicans – once they sold out to big money – have been running their scam since, probably, the day after Lincoln was shot.

  17. Teachers’ unions, school boards and administrators, parents, ACLU, ministers, and others have lobbied strenuously against vouchers for decades. They have raised money to pay for lawsuits in Indiana and a number of other states. (Republican controlled courts have judged vouchers constitutional since the funds go to parents and not to the religious schools directly. It seems this version of money-laundering is illegal for drug dealers but fine for government wanting to fund the church schools which legislators’ children attend.)

    Vouchers were supposed to help low-performing students escape low-performing public schools and give them choices they could not otherwise afford. That was the foot-in-the-door rhetoric but was always a scam. Vouchers were initially limited to poorer families but voucher-supporting legislators fiercely fought and defeated legislative language to restrict vouchers either to poor-performing students or to students from poor-performing schools. If you were poor and your child needed special ed. services, you had an especially difficult time gaining or continuing enrollment in a voucher-supported private school which says they don’t have the program or accommodations to serve your child. The schools are using that extra voucher money for athletic facilities but not for wheelchair accommodations or highly trained special ed. teachers. Meanwhile, legislators have steadily increased the family income threshold for voucher eligibility to over $200,000 for a family of four and students no longer have to have been enrolled in any public school at all, let alone a poor-performing one.

    Why are legislators and courts acting this way? Because they have super majorities and don’t fear losing them. A massive outpouring of voters to defeat these legislators and judges would teach them otherwise.

  18. The red legislatures may actually be considering the research. While the programs may be bad for grades, they still accomplish several other far-right goals. And to them, maybe on balance, that’s good enough.

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