Some Republicans in the Indiana General Assembly won’t stop tinkering with the state’s voucher program until it covers every private school student.
Their efforts need to stop. They need to accept their wins in years past. They need to halt the doubling of taxpayer spending on the voucher program.
That doubling is contained in the House budget plan that now faces action, and hopefully revising, in the Senate. But Republican senators aren’t exactly mimicking their House counterparts. Senate President Pro Tem Rodric Bray has expressed skepticism over expanding the program.
There are troubling aspects to the expansion trend.
About 90% of Indiana’s students attend public schools. About half of the 87,000 private school students use the Choice Scholarship program through which families receive vouchers. The House proposal would widen the program to all private school pupils, at an average of around $7,500 each.
Families currently qualify for the program based on income. Families of four making less than 300% of the federal poverty level, up to $154,000, can qualify.
The expansion would expand that to families of four who earn $220,000.
Under those terms, low- and median-income Hoosiers pay for wealthier families to attend private school. And in general terms, many Hoosiers would feel that those $220,000-earning families could afford their own private school financing.
The proposed new voucher money takes up a third of the $2 billion in new spending that House Republicans want to allocate for education in the next two years.
For years, the school voucher program has been among the great legislative debates.
Proponents typically cite studies that show positive performance among voucher students. But many of those studies reflect trends among limited numbers of students. For example, in a 2015 Congressional hearing, a researcher reported on the D.C. Opportunity Scholarship Program, where vouchers were awarded by lottery with preference to students attending “needs improvement” public schools. The program had a positive effect on reading test scores. But the study followed only 449 students.
The testimony was cited last November in a policy brief by the Indiana University School of Education. Researchers there reported that “such simplistic representations of the research evidence obscure important factors” such as program characteristics, the size of the study, subgroup analysis and trends.
Of course, one policy brief is not enough to base one’s opposition to — or support of — vouchers. And one voucher program cannot always be compared to another. Some honestly aid struggling, low-income families; other programs can be detrimental.
The confusion was underscored in a 2017 look at Indiana’s voucher programs which saw math achievement drop while students in private schools for four years outperformed public schoolers in English and math.
There is another factor that Hoosiers should consider: accountability. Voucher schools operate under a different set of rules than public schools. They don’t have to justify their spending and their school board members are not elected.
Indiana’s voucher program, in lacking accountability, transparency and proof of positive results, does not need to be expanded..
The Herald Bulletin, Anderson
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