Mitch Daniels and Tony Bennett sold Indiana’s voucher program with the argument that children shouldn’t be stuck in failing schools because their parents can’t afford anything better – that children have a right to a good education “regardless of background, income or zip code.”
But the changes now being pushed by Gov. Mike Pence and some legislators suggest the program has nothing to do with social justice. They want to award vouchers to students who have never enrolled in public schools – and in some cases, to families that clearly don’t need help paying private school tuition.
Vic Smith of the Indiana Coalition for Public Education isn’t exaggerating when he writes that these proposals are steps toward a universal voucher system, “a goal that would eventually undermine and marginalize the non-partisan, non-sectarian public schools that for over a hundred years have brought people from all walks of life together in our communities and have undergirded our democracy with citizenship education and our economy with college and career readiness.”
The first test is Senate Bill 184, scheduled for a vote today in the Senate Education and Career Development Committee. It would provide vouchers to siblings of previous voucher students, even if they haven’t met the current requirement of first attending public schools.
The Indiana voucher program, billed as the nation’s most extensive when it was adopted in 2011, provides public funding for low and moderate-income families to send their children to private schools, most of which are religious schools. The family income cutoff is 277 percent of the federal poverty level – about $67,000 for a family of four.