At least by the numbers, the Indiana school voucher law is looking a lot like a government bailout for Catholic education. A quick look at the list of nearly 250 schools approved by the Indiana Department of Education to receive vouchers shows a break-down that looks something like this:
— 177 Catholic schools
— 17 Lutheran schools
— 44 other Christian schools
— 2 Muslim schools
— 5 nonreligious schools
This isn’t surprising. The Indiana Catholic Conference lobbied hard for the voucher law and celebrated when it passed. The conference and Catholic schools have been hustling to sign students up for vouchers.
Across the country, Catholic schools have struggled to attract students for several decades, and maybe taxpayer-funded tuition could help slow, if not reverse, the trend. As Time magazine reported, Catholic education peaked in the 1960s, when more than 5 million students attended almost 13,500 Catholic schools. Since then, both enrollment and the number of schools have declined by more than half.
It’s likely that the recent growth of charter schools has further hurt Catholic schools, which historically were seen as academically superior alternatives to public schools, especially in urban areas. Why pay tuition to escape the neighborhood public school when charter schools are free?
In Indiana, the legislature’s approval this year of House Enrolled Act 1002 will significantly expand the number of charter schools, which could reduce Catholic-school enrollment even more. The voucher bill could soften the blow.
So it’s understandable that Indiana Catholics might think vouchers are a good idea. By supporting the voucher law, however, they aligned themselves with religious fundamentalists whose Christian schools offer a curriculum that demeans other religions – including, by some accounts, Catholicism.
More on that soon.