Voucher program a subsidy for religion

The Indiana Department of Education has released its 2017-18 school voucher report, providing more evidence that the state voucher program has evolved into something very different from its original design. It is now a massive government entitlement for religious schools and their students.

Indiana has awarded $154 million this year in private-school tuition vouchers to 35,458 students attending 318 schools. All those numbers are records, and nearly all the voucher schools are religious schools. The program keeps growing, although the growth has slowed.

Voucher advocates claim the program doesn’t cost the state because subsidizing tuition is cheaper than paying for students to attend public school. But many of the students have never attended public school; and there’s no clear evidence that, without vouchers, they would have.

According to the state report, 56.5 percent of students receiving vouchers this year have no record of having attended a public school in Indiana. That percentage grows every year.

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Voucher price tag keeps rising

Hoosier taxpayers paid $131.9 million in the 2015-16 academic year to send students to private schools, nearly all of them religious schools. That’s a key figure in an updated school voucher report released this week by the Indiana Department of Education.

What the voucher program actually cost the state is an open question, because we don’t know how many of the 32,686 voucher students would have attended public schools if not for the vouchers. If they had, the state would have been paying the full cost of their schooling, not just the voucher amount.

But, using a formula created by the pro-voucher state legislature, the state education department calculates the net cost to the state at $53.2 million, up from $40 million in 2014-15. That’s a good chunk of change that could otherwise be used to support public schools.

What is clear is that state officials pulled something of a bait-and-switch with vouchers. When the program was created in 2011, advocates insisted it was a way for poor children to escape “failing” public schools. Gov. Mitch Daniels even said it was appropriate that students should attend a public school for a year to qualify for a voucher, so they could see first-hand if the school was any good.

But lawmakers quickly expanded the program, making it more generous and easier to qualify. According to the state report, 52 percent of voucher students now have no record of attending a public school.

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