Indiana fares poorly in a “Grading the States” report issued this month by the Network for Public Education. One of 17 states to receive an F for its school privatization policies, it is near the bottom overall and for its policies on vouchers and charter schools.
That’s hardly surprising. Indiana’s Republican-dominated government has aggressively promoted charter schools for over a decade and vouchers for years. For a time, the right-wing American Legislative Exchange Council advised states to “do what Indiana does” on education.
But it seems that other states may have caught up. Arizona, Florida, Georgia, North Carolina and Nevada all rank lower than Indiana in supporting public education, according to the Network for Public Education report. Indiana is 46th overall, 45th for vouchers and 42nd for charter schools.
The 29-page report, written by Tanya Clay House, a former U.S. Department of Education official, starts with the position that charter schools and voucher programs undermine the public schools that serve most students in the United States.
“The proliferation of privatization programs in the states and the redirecting of public resources for the benefit of a small percentage of the student population belies (the) principle of equality of opportunity for all students,” it says. “Privatization … weakens our democracy and often sacrifices the rights and opportunities of the majority for the presumed advantage of a small percentage of students.”
To arrive at grades for the states, the report examines not only whether they have charter schools and voucher or voucher-like programs (education savings accounts, tuition tax credits, etc.), but whether they have policies that provide oversight and hold charter and voucher schools accountable.
Indiana appears to be worse than most but not as bad as some in those areas. Voucher schools in Indiana administer standardized tests and receive A-to-F grades from the state. But they aren’t subject to public-records laws, and they can discriminate in religion, sexual orientation and aptitude. Indiana charter schools are supposed to be held accountable for performance, but in fact it’s up to their authorizers to make that happen. Some charter schools – especially some online charter schools – produce abysmal results without facing consequences.
The report makes these recommendations:
- States shouldn’t use vouchers to get around bans on public funding of religion.
- There should be a moratorium on voucher programs; existing programs should be phased out.
- Taxpayers should get the same tax breaks for donating to public schools that they get for funding private schools, scholarship programs or home schooling.
- All charter schools should be established by local public-school districts. (In Indiana, they can be authorized by the districts, the Indianapolis mayor, public or private colleges and a state board).
- In keeping with an NAACP statement, there should be a moratorium on new charter schools and existing schools should ensure the civil rights of all students.
- Instead of diverting resources, states and the federal government should invest in public schools to make them better for all students.
It’s refreshing to see an organization that supports public schools getting into this state ratings game. School-choice organizations have done it for a long time, and their reports put Indiana near the top. ALEC ranks the state third with a grade of B+. EdChoice ranks it fourth for students in voucher programs and sixth for spending on the programs. The National Alliance for Public Charter Schools says Indiana has the “strongest charter school law in the nation.”