Vouchers, takeovers – updates on ‘reform’

School’s out for the summer, but the news marches on concerning what’s euphemistically referred to as education reform.

The Wall Street Journal had an interesting story last week about school voucher programs helping reverse enrollment declines at Catholic schools. Reporters Stephanie Banchero and Jennifer Levitz focus, naturally, on Indiana.

In particular, the story centers on St. Stanislaus, the only Catholic school left in East Chicago, Ind., whose enrollment grew by 38 percent last year due to vouchers. “God has been good to us,” says principal Kathleen Lowry, neglecting, apparently, to give thanks to Gov. Mitch Daniels, Superintendent of Public Instruction Tony Bennett and the Republican majorities in the House and Senate, who sprung the voucher program on an unsuspecting public in the 2011 legislative session.

“The most impressive gains for Catholic education have happened in Indiana, where the nation’s largest voucher system rolled out last year,” the WSJ says. “More than 2,400 children used state-issued vouchers to transfer from public to Catholic schools. Another 1,500 used vouchers to move to other religious or private schools.”

One rationale for vouchers is that they offset the damage to Catholic education done by the expansion of charter schools. Some parents send their kids to Catholic schools not for religion, but for an alternative to the local public schools. If that’s all you want, why not opt for a charter school, where taxpayers pay the freight.

A recent analysis by the consulting firm Praxis Insights found that charter schools were a “significant and growing factor” behind the decline in Catholic school enrollment in New York. However, Kathleen Porter-McGee, writing on a Thomas B. Fordham Institute parent-choice blog, plays down the impact of charter schools and points to other factors, such as the declining number of nuns available to work cheap in Catholic schools. Paying teachers means higher tuition, which means fewer students.

Other factors behind the enrollment decline include changing demographics and the priest sex-abuse scandals, the WSJ says.

No longer No. 1

Apparently we can no longer say that Indiana has the most ambitious private-school voucher program in the country. That dubious honor now belongs to Louisiana, according to Reuters news service. This fall, Louisiana will join Indiana in giving tuition vouchers to low- and middle-income parents. Starting in 2013, even wealthy parents in the state will qualify for “mini-vouchers.”

Some of the schools that are most eager to accept vouchers in Louisiana offer a curriculum based on having students watch religious DVDs or fill out Christian worksheets, Reuters’ Stephanie Simon reports. “Other schools approved for state-funded vouchers,” she writes, “use social studies texts warning that liberals threaten global prosperity; Bible-based math books that don’t cover modern concepts such as set theory; and biology texts built around refuting evolution.”

That’s a decent description of the texts used by some evangelical Christian schools that are receiving vouchers in Indiana.

Teachers and teachers’ unions in Louisiana have gone to court to challenge the voucher program and other education measures muscled through the legislature by Gov. Bobby Jindal. In Indiana, a lawsuit seeking to overturn the voucher program is before the state Supreme Court.

School takeover

Indianapolis Star columnist Matthew Tully wrote last week about potential “winners and losers” depending on the performance of the charter-school operators that will take over four schools in the Indianapolis Public Schools district this fall.

His list: Tony Bennett, the state superintendent, who pushed to have the schools taken over; the “school turnaround operators,” Florida-based for-profit Charter Schools USA and Indianapolis nonprofit EdPower; “reformers” who have argued that big changes are needed in urban education; IPS; and the city of Indianapolis, whose future depends on improved schools.

“The people of Indianapolis have largely accepted this Hail Mary move,” writes Tully, whose book Searching for Hope recounts a year at Indianapolis Manual High School. “Something had to be done to improve the educational outcomes at schools that have seen decades of failure.”

Scott Elliott, the Star’s education reporter, blogs that it’s Bennett who has the most to lose if the turnaround operators screw up. “Once he takes control of these schools, he owns them,” Elliott writes.

Elliott adds that he was “a bit surprised” at a recent State Board of Education meeting that the school turnaround operators want four years to raise the the IPS schools to a grade of A or B on the state accountability system. It seems the takeover operators are setting the bar pretty low – especially given that the state is awarding them a multi-million-dollar funding windfall at the expense of IPS.

1 thought on “Vouchers, takeovers – updates on ‘reform’

  1. Pingback: School turnaround five years later | School Matters

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