Vouchers prop up private schools

I’ve always thought that one of the motivations behind Indiana’s school voucher program was to create a taxpayer bailout for private schools, especially struggling Catholic schools. If that’s the case, it seems to have worked.

Enrollment for the state’s Catholic schools has held steady for the past 10 years, roughly the period that vouchers have been in place. Overall enrollment in accredited private schools has increased by 16%.

Contrast that with what’s happened elsewhere. Across the United States, enrollment in Catholic K-12 schools declined by 21.3% in the past 10 years, according to the National Catholic Education Association. Catholic school enrollment peaked in the early 1960s at 5.2 million; it’s now about 1.7 million.

A recent story in the St. Louis Post-Dispatch shows how this trend continues in St. Louis, where Catholic school enrollment has shrunk by half since 2000. The local archdiocese is embarking on a plan to close and consolidate schools, but that will be tricky, according to a community survey.

In Indiana, vouchers also cushioned the blow to private schools from the growth of charter schools. Indiana started charter schools in 2002 and greatly expanded them in 2011. They have grown explosively, especially in Indianapolis and Gary.

Continue reading

School referendum language is ‘a lot misleading’

When I go to the polls this November, I will vote in a school funding referendum that – according to the language that appears on the ballot – will increase my property taxes for schools by 35%.

That would be a hefty increase if it were accurate, but it’s not. Not by a long shot.

"Vote Yes Nov. 8" banner
Detail from a Monroe County Community School Corp. referendum flyer.

The actual increase – the difference between the property tax rate that I now pay to the Monroe County Community School Corp. and the rate I will pay next year if the referendum passes – is about 15%.

But a 35% increase is what MCCSC officials have to advertise under legislation approved in 2021, and an interpretation of that law by the Department of Local Government Finance. Voters are getting misleading information, and school funding referendums could be harder to pass as a result.

Continue reading

Voucher program got smaller

Indiana’s school voucher program got a bit smaller in the 2020-21 school year, according to the annual voucher report from the Indiana Department of Education.

The number of students who received vouchers to pay tuition at private K-12 schools dropped by just over 1,000 to 35,698, a 2.75% decrease. The 10-year-old voucher program grew rapidly in its early years, but its growth stalled more recently.

Of course, everything changes with the school year that’s now getting underway. The legislature voted in the spring to expand the voucher program, opening the door to more middle- and upper-income families. Private schools are eagerly promoting the expansion.

Continue reading

IPS, Gary dominate charter school demographics

Two themes jump out from Indiana Department of Education demographic data on charter school students in Indiana. First, it’s a tale of two cities – or, more accurately, a tale of two districts.

Over half of Indiana’s nearly 45,000 charter school students live in the Indianapolis Public Schools and Gary Community Schools districts, even though those districts account for fewer than 5% of the state’s students. State charter school data are overwhelmingly skewed by what happens in those two districts.

Second, Indianapolis’ approximately 50 charter schools enroll higher percentages of Black and economically disadvantaged students than IPS schools – even though IPS has significantly more Black students and students from low-income families than most districts in the state.

Continue reading

White teachers are the norm

Indiana has a teacher diversity problem. This has been an issue for a long time; and even though some school districts have been trying to hire more teachers of color, change comes slowly if at all.

Data from the Indiana Department of Education are discouraging, showing most students are missing out on the experience of learning from diverse teachers.

  • Over 93% of Indiana teachers are white. That compares with 66.4% of students in public and charter schools who are white.
  • Fewer than 4% of teachers are Black, compared with 12.7% of students.
  • Only 1.7% of teachers are Hispanic, compared with 12.8% of students.

Continue reading

Indiana school funding lacks effort

The second annual “The Adequacy and Fairness of State School Finance Systems” report is out. And if it were awarding grades, Indiana could expect a D-minus for effort.

The report, produced by researchers at the Albert Shanker Institute and the Rutgers University Graduate School of Education, builds on the growing scholarly consensus that spending more money on schools leads to better results.

“In other words,” it says, “the evidence is clear that money does, indeed, matter.”

Continue reading

Report shows most ‘segregating’ district borders

Lake County is home to half of the 14 most “segregating” school district boundaries in Indiana, according to a new report from EdBuild, a nonprofit group that addresses equity and school funding.

The report shows how school districts are often drawn in ways that divide affluent communities from low-income and more racially diverse areas right next door. It focuses on economic, not racial, segregation, but notes that the two types of segregation often go hand in hand.

“When school district borders cordon students into very high-poverty districts on one side of an arbitrary line, they thereby preserve unnaturally low-poverty districts on the other side, causing massive gaps in opportunity,” the authors write.

Continue reading

Indiana NAEP results show widening gap in reading

Indiana saw some of the nation’s biggest declines in fourth-grade and eighth-grade reading scores when 2019 results of the National Assessment of Educational Progress were released Wednesday.

More worrisome is what appeared to drive the declines: A sharp drop among Indiana’s lowest-scoring students. That mirrors national results, which showed a divide between the highest-scoring and lowest-scoring students that grew larger between the 2017 and 2019 administration of NAEP.

“The most disturbing pattern we see in the 2019 NAEP results is that both fourth- and eighth-grade reading scores decreased most among our lowest performing students,” Indiana University professor Sarah Theule Lubienski said by email. “For example, while reading scores slipped just 1 point for students scoring among the top 10%, they fell 3-6 points among those scoring within the bottom 10%.” Continue reading

Report highlights school segregation by district

A new report from EdBuild, a nonprofit organization that focuses on school funding issues, shows that America’s schools remain starkly segregated by race and economic status 65 years after the Supreme Court declared that “separate but equal” schools were unconstitutional.

The report identifies nearly 1,000 school district boundaries – including 30 in Indiana — that separate “advantaged” from “disadvantaged” school districts. In each case, the disadvantaged district has significantly more poor students and students of color but spends substantially less money.

Across the country, almost 9 million students attend schools on the losing side of those district lines.

“Their schools, when compared to those of their more affluent neighbors, are a glaring reminder that our education system remains divided by race and resources over half a century after the iconic Brown v. Board of Education ruling,” the EdBuild report concludes.

The report was issued on the 45th anniversary of another Supreme Court decision, Milliken v. Bradley, which ruled that school districts could not be required to desegregate across district borders. The decision facilitated white flight and locked in school segregation behind district boundaries.

Continue reading

‘Teaching penalty’ large in Indiana

The salary gap between teachers and comparable professionals is larger in Indiana than in most other states, according to a new report from researchers at the Rutgers Graduate School of Education and the Albert Shanker Institute.

The report, “School Finance and Teacher Pay Competitiveness,” supports the argument that Hoosier teachers have fallen behind their peers in other states, despite Indiana’s healthy state budget.

Using education and census data, the researchers examine what’s commonly called the teaching penalty: the difference in average pay between teachers and non-teachers who are similar in terms of education, age and the number of hours they work.

“Overall, the magnitude of the teaching penalty varies quite widely by state,” authors Bruce Baker, Matthew Di Carlo and Mark Weber conclude, “but it is at least meaningfully large in all states, and the gap is larger for veteran versus young teachers in all but a handful of states.”

They estimate that Indiana teachers at age 25 are paid 24.1% less than comparable professionals in the state. At age 55, the gap widens to 31.1%. Those differences are on the high side among the states.

States with the biggest teaching penalties include Arizona, Oklahoma and Colorado, all of which were hit by recent teacher strikes.

The report is based on salaries and doesn’t include benefits, which can be generous for teachers. Including benefits in the estimates might reduce the teaching penalty, but it would still be sizeable, the authors write. Also, the data sample includes private school teachers, who tend to be paid less. But they make up a small percentage of teachers and likely don’t skew the overall findings.

The report finds the teaching penalty is smaller in states that spend more on education (adjusted for labor market costs and other factors) and in states that spend a bigger share of their economy on schools. That suggests states could reduce the penalty – and make it easier for schools to recruit and retain teachers – with better school funding policies. The researchers recommend that states boost funding, but they take no position on whether teacher raises should be targeted or across the board.

A national focus on teacher pay has led to calls for federal action. For example, Democratic presidential candidate Kamala Harris wants to boost teacher pay by an average of $13,500. But Baker, Di Carlo and Weber argue that any federal teacher-pay program should give priority to states that spend a larger share of their gross domestic product on education.

In other words, the feds should help states that help themselves. Unfortunately, Indiana isn’t one of those. An earlier report by the same authors shows that Indiana ranks near the bottom of the states for school funding “effort.” And that effort is getting weaker.

As Ball State University economist Michael Hicks writes, “If today we (Indiana) spent the same share of GDP on education as we did in 2010, we would have more than $1.56 billion extra this year alone.”