Remember when Indiana Republicans said vouchers would let disadvantaged students find alternatives to “failing” public schools? Times sure have changed. Advocates no longer pretend Indiana’s voucher program is about improving education. It’s about funding private religious schools, plain and simple.
For evidence, see this article in Today’s Catholic, a publication of the Diocese of Fort Wayne-South Bend. Joseph Brettnacher, superintendent of Catholic schools for the diocese, explains the benefits of a voucher program expansion that state lawmakers approved this year:
“The most important aspect of the choice expansion is that more families will have the ability to send their children to faith-based schools, where students can develop a personal relationship with Jesus Christ within his mystical body, the Church,” Brettnacher says. “Our goals for students are to create disciples of Jesus Christ, help them fulfill their destiny to become saints and reach heaven.”
Not a word about helping underprivileged children or providing a superior education.
In fact, the voucher expansion will benefit middle- and upper-income families, many of whom already send their children to faith-based schools. The legislature raised the family income threshold to qualify for vouchers to 300% of the limit for reduced-price school meals: $145,000 for a family of four. All recipients will now get a “full” voucher, worth 90% of state per-pupil funding for local public schools.
It’s also likely to disproportionately benefit white families. In the Fort Wayne Community Schools district, even before the expansion, nearly 60% of students receiving vouchers were white, compared with fewer than 40% of students in district schools. Only 10% of voucher students were Black, compared to one-fourth of district students. Voucher students were less likely to be low-income.
When the voucher program started, in 2011, students had to spend at least a year in a public school to qualify. Gov. Mitch Daniels, the main cheerleader for vouchers, said that was a key feature: Public schools should get a year to show families they could work. But the requirement was dropped after Daniels left office. Now, a growing majority of voucher students have never attended public schools.
That seems to be the case for parents interviewed by Today’s Catholic. They said they would be sending their kids to parochial schools regardless, but the bigger vouchers give them “room to breathe.”
One parent, who has three children attending a Catholic school, described the voucher expansion as a “bonus” that would enable her to volunteer at the school rather than hold a job. Another family moved to Fort Wayne to send their six children to Catholic schools; two have graduated and four are enrolled. The mother said the increased vouchers would help the family afford “the other activities they’re interested in – the sporting events, the camps, the extracurricular things outside of school.”
A family of eight could qualify for vouchers with an income up to $235,000. A family with four kids in private schools could receive about $24,000 per year in tuition funding from the state. Is that the best way for Indiana to allocate its education dollars? And should the state be paying for religious education?