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). Voucher parents were nearly as likely to list lack of “morals/character/values” instruction, absence of religion, large class sizes and not enough individual attention as what they didn’t like about public schools. It’s likely that “academic quality” serves partially as a proxy those other factors.
An aside: We don’t know a lot about the academic performance of schools that voucher students are leaving or entering. But we do know the school with the most voucher students got an F from the state.
The Friedman Foundation notes three limitations to its survey: Respondents self-selected to participate; parents who left the voucher program weren’t included; and no demographic questions were asked. Another reason for skepticism: Parents got the survey from their school principals. They were told their answers would be anonymous and would be tabulated by a third party, but such an approach could influence their responses.
Former Gov. Mitch Daniels and former state Superintendent Tony Bennett sold the Indiana voucher program as a way to help poor children escape failing neighborhood schools. But as David Dresslar of Indianapolis’ Center of Excellence in Leadership of Learning has noted – crediting the Indiana State Teachers Association – it’s becoming an entitlement program that exists to support religious education.