Denial of school voucher data raises accountability issues

It’s a fundamental principle of government transparency: When a government agency spends the public’s money, the public should know who is getting paid and how much.

That’s why it’s disturbing that the Indiana Department of Education rejected requests from the Monroe County Community School Corp. and the Bloomington Herald-Times for information about students who receive state vouchers to attend private schools.

This isn’t a clear-cut case. It pits the principles of transparency and accountability against reasonable concerns about privacy. If the state discloses information about voucher recipients, should it also reveal who receives need-based state aid for college? Should it name people who get food stamps or other public assistance?

Disclosing information about individual students also could run afoul of the Federal Educational Rights and Privacy Act. The H-T appealed the denial of its request to state Public Access Counselor Luke Britt; and Britt cited FERPA in upholding the DOE decision.

But FERPA seems to make less sense as grounds for withholding data from the MCCSC. It is entrusted, after all, with information about 10,000 students who attend local schools. If it wrongly made student data public, that would be the fault of the district, not the state.

The DOE did disclose how much state money each Monroe County voucher school received in 2011-12 and 2012-13. The newspaper also reached out to the six local private schools that accept vouchers, and five told how many voucher students they’ve enrolled.

“But it’s still troubling to think these state funds are flowing to places known only to state officials,” H-T editor Bob Zaltsberg writes. “How can school systems, like MCCSC, be sure of where the money being diverted from them is going?”

Part of the sales pitch for Indiana’s voucher program was that it would let students from low- and middle-income families escape from public schools that weren’t meeting their educational needs. Is that what’s happening? Without more disclosure, it’s hard to know.

So the Herald-Times and education reporter Mary Keck deserve credit pursuing this information. Government officials can’t be reminded too often of the preamble of the Indiana Access to Public Records Act:

A fundamental philosophy of the American constitutional form of representative government is that government is the servant of the people and not their master. Accordingly, it is the public policy of the state that all persons are entitled to full and complete information regarding the affairs of government and the official acts of those who represent them as public officials and employees.


 

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5 thoughts on “Denial of school voucher data raises accountability issues

  1. In regards to transparency and accountability the government whether it is State or Federal have been seriously lacking. The public has remained stagnant and chosen to welcome an elite level ignorance when it comes to what government is doing. Even if there was a light bearing transparency given most of the parents involved wouldnt take the time to check it anyway. Those looking to pick a fight, whine, or otherwise be a nuisance would welcome transparency.

    On the other hand until the government and parents actually start giving a rats hind quarters about the education system and start fixing it, its not going to matter either way as no matter what school you go to in the US you will be considered retarded in other countries.

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  3. I can see some merit in not allowing individual student data to be released. As long as MCCSC knows how many of its students attend voucher schools and the amount of money they are losing, that would seem sufficient for budgeting purposes.

    As far as the quality of the voucher school goes, the state has a responsibility to make sure the schools are teaching the state standards as they are written. My hunch is that the instruction in some voucher schools is compromised due to religious beliefs.

    As far as students “escaping” failing public schools, we are seeing students leave higher performing public schools for lower performing private schools. Like a previous post mentioned, the rate of academic growth in many private entities is substantially lower when compared to public.

    But, as anyone who follows this debate knows, the reasons behind promoting vouchers are ideological not educational. The sales pitch was just that. But we bought it, and there are no returns allowed.

    Happy Holidays.

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  5. The FERPA rules have been relaxed by Arne Duncan as part of Race To The Top, so student data, attendance records, discipline records, special education information etc.. can be used to develop more individual lesson plans, supposedly. Think Gates & Carnegie Foundations & Rupert Murdoch’s Wireless Generation. Parents & lawmakers in New York are becoming very wary of possible data breaches & privacy issues. Seems to me if the corporatizers can get all this student information, even though there are serious concerns with security, the local public school district should be able to get information about voucher recipients who take our public tax dollars to mostly religious schools.

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