Indiana’s voucher program still all about religion

Now in its third year, Indiana’s school voucher program continues to be primarily about one thing: providing taxpayer support for Christian education.

Look at the numbers. There are 314 Indiana schools that are eligible to receive vouchers, according to the state Department of Education. By my count, only 11 are not religious schools. And only four of the religious schools are not Christian schools.

Indiana’s program has been in the news recently with reports that over 20,000 students applied for vouchers this fall, more than twice as many as last year. It’s now the second-biggest voucher program in the country, on track to surpass Milwaukee and become No. 1.

The growth comes even though, as Stephanie Simon pointed out recently in Politico, “there’s little evidence that the investment (in vouchers) yields academic gains.”

Voucher supporters, like Indianapolis Star columnist Matthew Tully, argue the program is good because it lets more parents choose the school they think is best for their children. But as public-education advocates have begun pointing out, “school choice” is an apt name for the program – because the schools, not just parents, get to choose.

Private schools that accept vouchers can’t discriminate on the basis of race, color or national origin. But they are perfectly free to bar applicants on the basis of religion, poverty, previous grades and test scores, disciplinary issues, parental attitude, sexual orientation – or just because the kids or families aren’t a “good fit.”

And if a parent wants to use a voucher to send a child to a school that doesn’t promote Christianity, they’re almost certainly out of luck. Of the 303 sectarian schools that qualify for vouchers, 299 are Christian, two are Jewish and two are Muslim.

There are so few nonsectarian voucher schools that you can look at their websites and get a sense of how unlikely it is that they’ll be helping poor kids “escape” public schools.

Six of the 11 are specialized or alternative schools designed to serve children with disabilities or kids involved with the justice system — arguably the closest thing to a legitimate rationale for vouchers. One voucher-qualified school, Midwest Elite Prep Academy in Merrillville, appears to have a curriculum that consists entirely of basketball.

Several voucher schools are highly regarded, academically focused private schools, but most of them charge tuition of $15,000 or more. (The Howe School, a military boarding academy, charges $28,200). With vouchers capped at $4,500 per child in grades 1-to-8, it seems unlikely that those schools are becoming a lot more socioeconomically diverse.

Many of the religious schools, on the other hand, are affordable for families that qualify for vouchers. If the purpose of the program is create a taxpayer-funded entitlement for the teaching of Christian faith – primarily of the Catholic, Lutheran or evangelical varieties – then it’s a smashing success.

12 thoughts on “Indiana’s voucher program still all about religion

    • No, but many of them do. In my hometown the only private schools are Lutheran and you have to be member of the church to attend. No other “school choice” within a 45 minute drive. What about for those parents who do not believe in God? Where are their choices? It really is not about school choice. It is about providing a Christian education to students in bigger towns/cities. I would not have a problem IF the private school being used was a higher “grade” than the punlic school in choice. I also would not have a problem if the private schools could not deny admittance. As a teacher i had a new student this year who transferred from a highly regarded Christian school. She had to because that school did not want to deal withher emotional issues. She had never been in punlic school before and the biggest class she had ever been in was 18. So they kick her out and her only “choice” was to enroll in our high school that was more than 5 times the size she was used to. But they also do not have to provide us with all the info we need for her emotional issues. I was not prepared or qualified and neither were any of my colleagues.

      When voucher schools have to teach everyone that public schools do then I will not care.

    • Yes, but most of them require students to attend some type of chapel services or take classes in the Bible. They want to be a “resource” for everyone, but those resources come with a heavy dose of religion on the side. Yes, “school choice” is great if you’re seeking your education with a very obvious Christian worldview, but if you’re an atheist looking to use a voucher to escape a failing public school, this state has nothing for you.

      Also (unrelated to your post), voucher advocates state that “increasing competition” is a goal of vouchers — you “force” public schools to compete for students, so they are motivated to “improve.” However, voucher students in this state are permitted to leave top-ranked school corporations simply because parents want their children in Christian schools (which may even have a lower academic profile with lower scores and fewer academic options than the surrounding public schools). Public schools legally CANNOT “compete” for those students — their parents want their kids to be taught with curriculum from a Christian worldview. Kids are leaving…taking dollars with them…and there is absolutely nothing the public schools can do to “compete” for those kids.

  1. Let’s see if I understand the points here. For a program in which virtually any private school can participate, mostly Christian schools have chosen to do so. Is this a problem with the program or with the schools who have chosen not to apply?

    In addition, the schools that do participate can use criteria (except for race, color and national origin) to admit students. Apart lacking any evidence about what criteria they do use, is the point that government money is enabling discrimination? But how can that be since government money flows to schools only if they admit students?

    • Most of the non-religion based private schools that do not participate do not do so because they understand that accepting vouchers would force them to abandon their missions, breadth, depth of distictive type of education they provide. The parents who send their children to these schools would not do so if the curriculum were narrowed in this way. And many of those parents do not want public schools to be narrowed in this way either, and do not agree with voucher money being taken out of the state funds budgeted for public schools.

    • One of the problems is that that money still flows OUT of the public schools throughout the state. Many private school parents and teachers are not singlemindedly focused on just their one private school. Many, if not most, parents and teachers at non religious private schools have children or other family members who for a variety of reasons attend public schools. Others may not have children attending public schools, but still understand the huge value in supporting schools for all children. In addition, most non religious private schools, particularly on the K8 level, are not willing to abandon their distinctive mission, curriculum or type of education in order to agree to the standardized test focused style of teaching that comes with vouchers.

    • Les, you’re confusing me. Are you suggesting the voucher program doesn’t use government funding to enable discrimination if the schools don’t admit the students they’re discriminating against? So, for example, if a landlord won’t rent to black people, it’s OK for him to get Section 8 vouchers, because he’s only getting them for the white people that he rents to? Really?

      As for evidence regarding admissions, I rely the websites of voucher schools. To their credit, they’re pretty up-front about this. Just starting in Bloomington: At Lighthouse Christian Academy, “each student must demonstrate that he has a history of behavior that would be in accordance with the standards and expectations of LCA (also, admission test required).” Clear Creek Christian School “offers spiritual training that is aimed at bringing students into a personal relationship with God through Jesus Christ …. Families who disagree with this will find that a different academic environment will be a better choice for their child.” Also: “The school has very limited capacity and resources to address the needs of students with physical and learning disabilities.” That’s just the first two I called up.

      I know the courts have ruled on vouchers, but I think they’re bad public policy. Indiana is using public funds to pay for religious instruction, not just academic programs that take place in religious schools. To me it’s contrary to the spirit, if not the letter, of the Establishment Clause and the Indiana Constitution.

  2. Pingback: Rise and Shine: Financial woes force Indiana charter school to abruptly close | Chalkbeat Indiana

  3. This was always a thinly veiled way to funnel tax dollars to faith-based schools. Not only does this violate Indiana’s constitution — which expressly forbids public monies for religious groups — it subsidizes the teaching of creationism etc. at a time when the scientific method and critical thinking should be learned by ALL students with an IQ of 70 or higher.

    The Indiana Supreme Court relied on the legal fiction that the money goes to the parent, not to the faith-based school, but I dare any parent who gets a voucher for a faith-based-school pupil to try to spend that tax money on anything else! In other words, the parent is merely the messenger carrying the money from state to church.

    Parents are free to send their children to schools that fill their heads with nonsense, or to teach it to them at home, but my tax dollars should be spent on fact-based education preparing kids to compete in the real world, where people come in all colors and shapes and sizes and orientations and faiths or lacks thereof.

    • Not only can parents not spend the voucher money on anything else, but the money is not transferable. If a student is unhappy at Voucher School A, he/she cannot transfer the voucher to Voucher School B. The parent would have to reapply to Voucher School B the next school year. Like you say, Ellen, the money goes to the school and it is the schools that have the choice!

  4. The idea behind vouchers is that the private sector is always more efficient than the public sector due to competition. Milton Friedman and his Chicago cronies developed the principles of school choice as way to break what they saw as the monopoly of the public schools.

    School choice is an extension of a larger and more comprehensive ideology that sees government as intrusive, incompetent, and a threat to individual freedom. The fact that almost all the money goes to religious schools is secondary. The point is that the money is funneled to private schools, most of which happen to be religious.

    The fact that vouchers do not improve student achievement or that most parents do not choose schools based on academic standing is also irrelevant. Voucher proponents are not interested in research. They are interested in replacing the public school system with a robust private model.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s