More evidence Indiana vouchers are about teaching religion

Parents are using Indiana school vouchers and tax-credit scholarships to provide their children with religious education at taxpayer expense. That’s the finding that jumps out from a recent survey of private school parents by three pro-voucher Indiana organizations.

The survey found that more than half of parents who used vouchers to transfer their kids to private schools did so in part because they didn’t like the fact that public schools don’t teach religion. And more than two-thirds chose their current school for its religious instruction or environment.

That’s not the only motive parents listed. Survey participants were invited to check multiple reasons, and many did. The most common: Three in five disliked the “academic quality” of their public school; nearly 80 percent chose their current school for “academics.”

The Friedman Foundation, which conducted the survey with School Choice Indiana and the Indiana Non-Public Education Association, seized on that result. “Survey: Voucher parents chose private schools for better academics,” says the headline on its press release about the results.

But academic quality means different things to different people. (I guarantee it has very different meaning for me than for some of my close friends).  Continue reading

New ideas at Indianapolis Public Schools

Lewis Ferebee is doing so many things right in his new gig as superintendent of Indianapolis Public Schools. Let’s hope his support for legislation to let IPS partner with charter schools and try new methods to improve district schools is one of them.

He is making a persuasive case for the measure, House Bill 1321, by arguing that IPS needs every tool it can find to meet the needs of its mostly low-income clientele and to compete for students with charter schools and voucher-eligible private schools.

But he is walking a fine line in his efforts to promote the legislation without alienating supporters of public schools, especially teachers – a sign of how polarized Indiana’s education politics have become after years of union-bashing and IPS-bashing.

HB 1321 would give IPS authority to do two things:

  • Convert low-performing schools to “innovation network” schools, which would continue to serve IPS neighborhoods but would have charter school-like autonomy to hire staff, lengthen the school day or year, and change curriculum and instruction.
  • Lease empty or underutilized buildings to charter schools, whose students would count as part of IPS for purposes of funding and state accountability.

“IPS supports HB 1321 because it will provide the district with innovative tools to improve academic achievement, increase student enrollment and provide families with a greater range of choices to meet their child’s educational needs,” says an IPS flier.

Everyone knows IPS has been a school district under siege. Continue reading

Checking in with the Indiana legislature

We’re at the midpoint of the 2014 Indiana legislative session. This week, the Senate will take up bills that were approved by the House and the House will consider bills passed by the Senate. It’s time to look at what kind of mischief our lawmakers are making.

House bills

  • HB 1004 – This is arguably the best and worst education bill this year. Best because it creates a framework – finally – for Indiana to help fund preschool for low-income families. Worst because it opens yet another door to Indiana’s K-12 school voucher system. The House vote was 87-9, with most Democrats swallowing the poison pill of voucher expansion to keep alive the long-deferred hope of having Indiana join the 40 states that already fund preschool.
  • HB 1047 – Says students who attend online charter schools must be allowed to participate in school sports for the public high school in whose district they live. You’d think Republican legislators who profess to support local control would think twice about issuing such a mandate. The vote was 51-44.
  • HB 1064 – Calls for a “return on investment and utilization study” of career education programs. Part of Gov. Mike Pence’s education agenda, it passed by a vote of 94-0.
  • HB 1321 – Lets Indianapolis Public Schools establish “innovation network schools” that could be run by charter school operators or by groups of IPS educators. Continue reading