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.