A report released this week by the Center for Tax and Budget Accountability puts 28 pages of research and data behind what public education advocates have been saying for years: Indiana’s school voucher program is a bad deal for the public and it’s not providing academic benefits to students.
Drawing on published studies and details about the Indiana program, the report addresses the question of whether private school choice in Indiana is leading to better educational outcomes for children and whether it’s an efficient use of public funds at a time when state budgets are constrained.
“As it turns out, the answer is no, when ideology is put aside and evidence of what has worked to enhance student achievement is used as a barometer,” it says.
The Center for Tax and Budget Accountability is a Chicago-based think tank that generally supports progressive policies. Ralph Martire, the center’s executive director, and Indiana legislators who have opposed vouchers presented the findings in a Statehouse news conference.
Jason Bedrick, a policy analyst with the libertarian Cato Institute, attacked the report in an article posted later Tuesday, accusing it of using data selectively and misrepresenting school-choice studies.
The CTBA report relies heavily on a large nationwide study of public, charter and private schools by University of Illinois professors Christopher Lubienski and Sarah Theule Lubienski, published in 2006. The research “clearly shows that students who attend traditional, K-12 public schools outperform students who attend both charter schools and private religious schools,” it says.
The Lubienskis later published their findings in a book, “The Public School Advantage: Why Public Schools Outperform Private Schools.”
The report also says none of the independent studies of longstanding voucher programs – in Cleveland, Milwaukee and Washington, D.C. – found any statistical evidence that voucher students performed better than students in public schools.
Voucher supporters will no doubt disagree with that. The Cato Institute’s Bedrick, for example, cites several of the same studies referenced by CTBA but draws different conclusions from them.
The report shows how vouchers are spreading school spending thin by providing more state dollars for students whose parents had no intention of sending them to public schools. If the voucher program keeps growing at the same rate, it says, the cost could reach nearly a half billion dollars by 2017.
A recent report by Indiana University’s Center for Evaluation and Education Policy suggests the rapid growth that voucher programs have seen in recent years may be leveling off.
The Center for Tax and Budget Accountability says there is nothing wrong with parents choosing to send their children to private schools and religious schools. But if private schools don’t consistently do a better job than public schools, it says, that’s not a choice that the public should subsidize.
“It appears that the sole policy justification for the Indiana Choice Legislation is ideological,” it says. “That is, choice is supported for its own sake, irrespective of the fact that choice cannot be expected to improve either the overall education system or student achievement, and indeed may be counterproductive.”