Vouchers would get outsized share of funding increase

Indiana House Republicans are bragging that their proposed state budget will make record investments in education, including an 8.5% increase in K-12 funding next year. That’s not false, but it’s misleading.

A huge chunk of that increase would go to private schools under a vastly expanded voucher program, not to the public schools that most Hoosier students attend.

Indiana Statehouse

The budget would boost state funding for K-12 schools by $697 million next year, an 8.5% increase from what the state is spending this year. But it’s estimated that about $260 million of next year’s increase would go to growing the voucher program, according to the Indiana Capital Chronicle.

In other words, 37% of the new money for education would go to vouchers that pay tuition for private schools, which enroll just over 7% of Indiana K-12 students. That’s hardly equitable.

The budget appropriation for base school funding, which accounts for 80% of state funding for public schools, would increase by only 4% next year and 0.7% the following year, House Republicans admit. That’s nowhere close to the current or expected rate of inflation.

The proposal also includes $121 million a year for Gov. Eric Holcomb’s request for state funding for K-12 textbooks and instructional supplies. Holcomb’s budget had a separate appropriation for textbooks, but the House GOP includes it in the school funding amount.

The budget legislation would expand the voucher program to include families that make up to 7.4 times the federal poverty level: $222,000 next year for a family of four. Overall, the state would spend $1.1 billion on vouchers over two years, double the current spending rate.

It would also eliminate the “pathways” that students must follow to qualify for vouchers, such as having attended a public school, being eligible for special education or being the sibling of a voucher student. In practice, any student can qualify for vouchers by receiving tuition funding from a “scholarship granting organization.” But eliminating the pathways will make it simpler to get a voucher.

I’ve written about the many reasons vouchers are a bad idea: for example, voucher schools aren’t accountable or subject to public oversight; they discriminate against students, families and employees; they cause students to fall behind academically; and more. But what’s truly confounding about this voucher expansion is that it would benefit only people who don’t need it.

Rep. Jeff Thompson, R-Lizton, who chairs the House Ways and Means Committee, said the objective is to increase “options.” “We want those parents to have the best choice they can have with regard to where their children should go, and all parents should have that,” he told reporters.

But a couple with two kids and an income of $222,0000 already has “options.” They can pay private school tuition without state assistance. In fact, it’s likely that most students who join the voucher program are already attending private schools. This is a handout for affluent families.

The budget bill also revamps the way charter schools are funded. It eliminates the charter and innovation network school grant program, which provides charter schools with a state grant of $1,250 per student. In its place, there’s a complex funding mechanism, based on local property taxes.

Like the voucher expansion, this seems like a substantive policy change that should receive public testimony and careful deliberation in the House and Senate education committees. Instead, the changes are part of a vastly complex, $43.3 billion budget bill. Even so, look for the Ways and Means Committee and the full House to pass the budget this week, probably on almost party-line votes.


4 thoughts on “Vouchers would get outsized share of funding increase

  1. The only argument needed to justify sunsetting Indiana’s school voucher system is that millions of Hoosiers are being coerced into paying for the religious education of the children of a relatively small number of families, many of whom can easily afford to pay for such education on their own. This is not just bad policy. It is just wrong.

  2. I’m old enough to remember when there were just two kinds of schools in America: public or private, and everyone knew the difference. Now there are so many “choices” one can hardly tell the difference and it is shattering the common good that both public and private schools used to uphold. I have a hunch that a lot of it is related to the social/political revolution of the 60s and 70s when “dropping out”, doing your own thing, and “if it feels good do it” unmoored so many people from a sense of right and wrong, and the influx of non-English speaking people added to that making teaching a whole different challenge (charter schools in response), and with the deindustrialization of America that followed in its wake leaving people scrounging for money (TFA, NCLB testing corporations and many, many other ways to look at public education dollars as possible replacements for those from industry and vouchers to “escape” the over challenged schools).

  3. Pingback: House would make schools pay for textbooks | School Matters

  4. Pingback: Senate pares back voucher expansion | School Matters

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