Voucher program serves the top 20 percent

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.

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Voucher program promotes religion, not better education

Supporters of Indiana’s school voucher program can no longer pretend that it’s intended to provide parents with the best education for their children no matter where they live.

No, it’s about using public dollars to pay for religious education, pure and simple. More and more every year, vouchers are going to parents who never intended to send their kids to public schools. They are taking advantage of the program to get religious instruction at taxpayer expense.

Look, for example, at Lighthouse Christian Academy in Bloomington, which enrolled 25 new voucher students last fall. The school has nearly 100 students receiving vouchers and received almost $400,000 in state-funded tuition assistance this year.

The school’s principal, Joyce Huck, told the Bloomington Herald-Times that most of the new students were from families that previously home-schooled their kids.

“Before, looking at education that was faith-based was out of reach financially, and with the scholarships, they were able to make that happen,” Huck told reporter Mary Keck.

According to the annual voucher program report released last week by the Indiana Department of Education, 52 percent of the 32,686 current voucher students have no record of having attended a public school in the state.

Voucher students were eligible to receive $134.7 million in taxpayer-funded tuition assistance this year, the report said. Ninety-nine percent of the more than 300 private schools that enroll voucher students are religious schools. With maybe three exceptions, those are Christian schools, primarily Catholic, Lutheran or Evangelical Protestant.

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More evidence Indiana vouchers are about teaching religion

Parents are using Indiana school vouchers and tax-credit scholarships to provide their children with religious education at taxpayer expense. That’s the finding that jumps out from a recent survey of private school parents by three pro-voucher Indiana organizations.

The survey found that more than half of parents who used vouchers to transfer their kids to private schools did so in part because they didn’t like the fact that public schools don’t teach religion. And more than two-thirds chose their current school for its religious instruction or environment.

That’s not the only motive parents listed. Survey participants were invited to check multiple reasons, and many did. The most common: Three in five disliked the “academic quality” of their public school; nearly 80 percent chose their current school for “academics.”

The Friedman Foundation, which conducted the survey with School Choice Indiana and the Indiana Non-Public Education Association, seized on that result. “Survey: Voucher parents chose private schools for better academics,” says the headline on its press release about the results.

But academic quality means different things to different people. (I guarantee it has very different meaning for me than for some of my close friends).  Continue reading

Indiana’s voucher program still all about religion

Now in its third year, Indiana’s school voucher program continues to be primarily about one thing: providing taxpayer support for Christian education.

Look at the numbers. There are 314 Indiana schools that are eligible to receive vouchers, according to the state Department of Education. By my count, only 11 are not religious schools. And only four of the religious schools are not Christian schools.

Indiana’s program has been in the news recently with reports that over 20,000 students applied for vouchers this fall, more than twice as many as last year. It’s now the second-biggest voucher program in the country, on track to surpass Milwaukee and become No. 1.

The growth comes even though, as Stephanie Simon pointed out recently in Politico, “there’s little evidence that the investment (in vouchers) yields academic gains.”

Voucher supporters, like Indianapolis Star columnist Matthew Tully, argue the program is good because it lets more parents choose the school they think is best for their children. But as public-education advocates have begun pointing out, “school choice” is an apt name for the program – because the schools, not just parents, get to choose. Continue reading