January 28, 2014

 

When then Governor Mitch Daniels signed Indiana’s private school voucher bill into law, he dismissed criticisms that vouchers would drain funds from public school by saying very few and only low-income students would qualify.

 

However, in just a couple of years, the voucher program has drastically transformed from a program to “help a small amount of poor children” into a middle-class entitlement program which benefits mostly private religious schools with taxpayer dollars.

 

A new report from the Department of Education shows that Indiana’s school voucher program has now doubled in just one year to 20,000 students, now costing the state more than $81 million.  That amount of funding to Indiana’s public schools could have meant about another 1.25% in revenue for programs to help public school children everywhere.

 

Originally, all voucher students had to qualify by attendance for at least two semesters in grades 1-11 at a public school before being eligible for a private school voucher.  This was not just window-dressing.  By instilling this prerequisite, the state was at least sure that the student “had been counted once” for funding purposes.  Once counted, if the voucher amount remains less than the per-pupil public school funding, some argued that vouchers were not “cutting into” public school funding.  [NOTE:  ISTA has never bought into that argument.]

 

However, after drastically expanding the voucher program last year, the legislature began allowing students from wealthier families as well as students who have never attended a public school before (siblings, kindergarteners) to obtain a voucher.

 

Now, the majority of the more than 5,000 new voucher students have never attended a public school. This has made the voucher program an unfunded government entitlement.

 

Clearly, commitment to public education in Indiana as a first priority has been abandoned.

 

Indiana has been all about EXPANDING the program with little regard to how that might affect everyone else.  As voucher amounts increased and caps on enrollment were removed, so did the voucher student count.

 

The report also reveals that the voucher program has drastically changed from a program its supporters claimed was a way for low-income student to leave Indiana’s public schools.

 

Currently, a family of 4 in Indiana earning $87,136 per year can qualify for a taxpayer-financed voucher. Considering Indiana’s median is $46,974, it is evident the voucher program was never about focusing in on helping poor families.

 

According to the report, Indiana’s voucher program is evidently not helping racial minorities in Indiana either. According to the report, white students are taking more than half of the vouchers (56%).

 

Aside from wealthier and white students being the biggest winners from Indiana’s costly voucher program, Indiana’s religious schools are big winners as well. Indiana’s voucher program continues to subsidize religious school operations with more than 96% of the schools receiving vouchers being religion-based schools.