Indiana’s School Scholarship Tax Credit program is “almost too good to be true,” the head of the state’s Lutheran Scholarship Granting Organization tells the Fort Wayne Journal-Gazette.
That may be true if you’re one of the rich people getting a 50 percent kickback from the state on your contributions to private K-12 schools. Two-thirds of the credits go to Hoosiers who make more than a half million dollars a year, the JG’s Niki Kelly reports.
And it’s also a good deal for private schools like those represented by the Lutheran group and the other four Scholarship Granting Organizations that dispense the tax credits. No one else gets such generous help from the state to help with their fundraising.
But it’s arguably not so good for the Indiana taxpayers who are paying more and more money every year to fund private schools, most of them religious. And it’s not a good deal for public schools that struggle as the state sends more money to private schools.
Betsy Wiley, president and CEO of the Institute for Quality of Education, another of the Scholarship Granting Organizations, suggests that paying for the program is a wash because the state isn’t paying to educating students who might otherwise be in public school.
But that’s bogus. It’s likely that most of the scholarships are going to students who would never have attended public schools. So their schooling is an added-on cost for the state.
More significantly, any student who receives a scholarship from a Scholarship Granting Organization for one year becomes eligible for taxpayer-funded vouchers for as long as his or her family remains income-eligible. And the student’s siblings get vouchers too.
Indiana’s voucher program was supposedly created to let children from poor families escape “failing” public schools. But the idea that families should first give public schools a chance was quickly dropped. As of 2014-15, over half of new voucher recipients entered the program through the scholarship program. Nearly two-thirds of new voucher recipients had never attended a public school.
As I pointed out in March, every dollar invested in a private school scholarship can return as much as $600 in taxpayer-funded school vouchers for the same child and his or her siblings.
And speaking of the Institute for Quality Education …
Fort Wayne teacher Donna Roof caught the zeitgeist with a response to Gov. Mike Pence’s comment that teachers shouldn’t “take it personally” if their students fail state tests and their schools get low grades.
Published first on the Northeast Indiana Friends of Public Education website, the piece stuck a nerve. It was picked up by Diana Ravitch’s blog, the Washington Post Answer Sheet and other outlets.
Tosha Salyers, communication and outreach director with the advocacy organization Hoosiers for Quality Education – a partner to the Institute for Quality Education – apparently took Roof’s complaints personally. The one-time aide to former Superintendent of Public Instruction Tony Bennett wrote a rebuttal for the organization’s own blog.
Salyers responds to Roof’s pledge to campaign against Pence with this: “Make sure you’re campaigning outside of the classroom, assuming you have time after all that test prep.”
Teachers know they can’t do politics on the job. But the irony is that Bennett, Salyers’ former boss, actually did make extensive use of his elected state office to engage in political activity.
As Tom LoBianco, then with the Associated Press, reported, an investigation by the state inspector general’s office “found more than 100 instances in which Bennett or his employees potentially violated federal wire fraud law” by using state staff and property on his failed 2012 re-election campaign.
Bennett wasn’t charged with a crime but paid a $5,000 fine to settle ethics violations.
Note: A previous version of this post misstated the percentage of new voucher students who received vouchers as a result of participating in the scholarship program and the percentage who never attended a public school. Thanks to Jorge Fernandez for pointing out the error.