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.
Indiana Superintendent of Public Education Jennifer McCormick was on solid legal ground when she rejected federal guidance on distributing CARES Act funding to private schools. Three federal courts have now made that clear.
Most recently, in a decision that applies nationwide, a judge ruled that Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos was wrong when she and the U.S. Department of Education tried to divert more funding to private schools than Congress intended.
“In enacting the education funding provisions of the CARES Act, Congress spoke with a clear voice,” wrote U.S. District Judge Dabney Friedrich. “It declared that relief funding shall be provided to private schools ‘in the same manner as provided’ (in federal school funding law). Contrary to the Department’s interim final rule, that cannot mean the opposite of what it says.”
Indiana charter schools were awarded between $15 million and $38 million in Paycheck Protection Program funding intended to help small businesses and nonprofits during the economic downturn, according to Small Business Administration data.
That is in addition to funding under a section of the CARES Act intended to help public schools; Indiana charter schools got $20.5 million in that funding.
The PPP figure is a conservative estimate. It doesn’t include schools that may have received less than $150,000, which were not identified by the SBA.
The Supreme Court came down heavily in support of religious education when it ruled today that a Montana voucher program that excluded religious schools was unconstitutional. I’ll write more later, but for now, here are a couple of points:
First, the decision doesn’t have any immediate impact on vouchers in Indiana. The Hoosier state, like Montana, has language in its constitution that bars state aid for religious institutions. But the Indiana Supreme Court got around the provision by reasoning that vouchers go to parents, not private schools.
The number of students who received private school vouchers in Indiana leveled off last year, marking a possible end to voucher program’s steady growth.
Students enrolled in the program at the start of the 2019-20 school year declined slightly from the previous year. But the state added a second signup period, and some students enrolled late, resulting in a slight increase.
According an Indiana Department of Education report, 36,707 students received vouchers last year. That’s a little over 3% of the state’s K-12 students.
Indiana awarded $172.8 million in vouchers in 2019-20, up from $161.4 million the previous year. Over the program’s nine-year history, state spending for private school vouchers has now topped $1 billion.
Indiana Superintendent of Public Instruction Jennifer McCormick is taking bold action by rejecting guidance from the U.S. Department of Education and distributing emergency aid for schools the way Congress intended.
It’s remarkable that, thanks to McCormick, Indiana appears to be the first state to openly push back against U.S. Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos and refuse to follow guidance that it deems to be contrary to the law.
At issue is funding from the CARES Act, which provides $13.2 billion to help schools respond to the COVID-19 pandemic. Schools can use the money to improve technology, protect student health and plan for the next school year.
Christopher Lubienski and Sarah Theule Lubienski challenged conventional wisdom when they published research that found public schools were better than private schools at boosting student achievement.
Five years later, their conclusions have been confirmed several times over – especially by studies of state voucher programs that provide public funding for students to attend private schools.
“In the last four years, every study of student achievement in voucher programs has found large negative impacts, except for a couple of studies that found no impact,” Christopher Lubienski said recently. “The programs are hurting the learning outcomes of children using the vouchers.”
Over 1,300 households that participate in Indiana’s school voucher program have incomes over $100,000, according to the 2018-19 voucher report from the Indiana Department of Education.
That puts them in the top 20 percent of Hoosier households by income. So much for the argument that the voucher program, created in 2011, exists to help poor children “trapped” in low-performing schools.
Like previous state reports on the voucher program, the current report paints a picture of a program that primarily promotes religious education and serves tens of thousands of families that could afford private school tuition without help from the taxpayers.
Students who use Indiana’s voucher program to transfer from public to private schools aren’t seeing the test-score gains they may have expected. When it comes to academics, they could be better off staying in their local public schools, according to a long-awaited study released today.
The study, by Joe Waddington of the University of Kentucky and Mark Berends of the University of Notre Dame, finds that voucher students experience significant losses in mathematics achievement after they transfer to private schools. Receiving a voucher did not have a significant effect on English/language arts test performance.
The findings are based on a detailed and rigorous analysis of ISTEP-Plus scores for students who received private school vouchers in the first four years of Indiana’s program.
The study follows a spate of negative evaluations of voucher programs in Ohio, Louisiana and Washington, D.C. But Indiana’s program is especially helpful to study. It’s the nation’s largest and most generous voucher program, enrolling more than 34,000 students; and it is unusual in that private schools that participate must administer state standardized tests the same as public schools.
You can read a detailed report on the study on the National Public Radio website.
Four schools jumped to the front of the line when the Indiana legislature offered to waive accountability requirements for low-performing private schools that benefit from state-funded tuition vouchers.
And no wonder. Those four religious schools had seen their voucher funding drop by over $1.2 million in two years after being sanctioned for persistently low marks on the state’s A-to-F school grading system.
The law that legislators approved this spring says private schools can have the sanctions waived if a majority of their students demonstrated “academic improvement” in the preceding year. It doesn’t spell out what academic improvement means, leaving it to the State Board of Education to decide.
The board voted 6-2 last week to approve one-year waivers for the schools that requested them: Central Christian Academy, Trinity Lutheran and Turning Point School in Indianapolis and Lutheran South Unity School in Fort Wayne. As a result, the schools can resume adding voucher-funded students this fall.