Last week I wrote about the voucher expansion bill in the Indiana General Assembly…I went to Indianapolis to lobby against expanding it. This week the Indiana Supreme Court unanimously upheld the current voucher plan…which was followed almost immediately by the Senate Education Committee passing the bill for expansion. The fight’s not over yet…it still has to be passed by the entire General Assembly, but with the voucher-supporting-party holding supermajorities in both houses it looks like a sure thing.
It’s not surprising at all. Of the three senators I talked to last week, none of them sent their children to public schools. The money supporting vouchers has a loud voice and is very powerful in this state…and the people voted for state senators and representatives who will support it as well. This is, once again, who we elected. Through our votes we chose to expand privatization in Indiana…and now we’re getting what we chose.
Karen Francisco, the pro-public education blogger for the Fort Wayne Journal Gazette wrote in her blog that the decision was not an endorsement of the voucher program by the voters because the court said that the actual value of the program is a legislative issue. The ruling by the court specifically states that it isn’t endorsing the plan on educational grounds…only that it’s not unconstitutional.
Some voters might have been expressing an opinion of school choice when they voted to elect Glenda Ritz as superintendent of public instruction, of course. Her opponent was Tony Bennett, the incumbent superintendent who was the face of school choice in Indiana (and elsewhere) until he lost handily to Ritz.
It would be a stretch to say voters were casting ballots in support of school choice when they elected pro-voucher Gov. Mike Pence, because John Gregg and the Democratic Party failed to make vouchers an issue in the November gubernatorial election. Pence’s campaign focused on jobs, not school choice.
Likewise, Republican candidates for the General Assembly were careful to downplay the issue, with many incumbents insisting they wanted to give the so-called education reform agenda a chance to prove its effectiveness before making any more changes. Many of those lawmakers – Reps. Kathy Heuer, Dan Leonard, Matt Lehman, to name a few – quickly reversed themselves once they were reelected, voting to expand the voucher program through House Bill 1003.
I agree that the voucher plan was not a big issue in any election other than Ritz’s victory over Bennett. However, it’s clear from Pence’s campaign material that he favored vouchers. On his campaign web site Pence wrote,
Our strategies to achieve these goals will include efforts to improve freedom for schools and teachers, expand school choice, access to quality schools, and parent freedom, and improve school accountability for reading and math skill development. We also will continue to see that Indiana is on the cutting edge of charter school development, and to ensure that every high school graduate is college or career ready by increasing our efforts to bring career, technical and vocational education back to every high school in Indiana. [Emphasis added]
The Republican legislators who were elected were bound to follow suit. So, maybe it wasn’t a conscious endorsement of the voucher program by the people…but it was an endorsement, nonetheless.
…the lawsuit did not require defendants to prove school vouchers are good for Indiana children or taxpayers. That’s for lawmakers to determine before they vote to spend even more on the program.
“Now that the court has made the decision on the legal issues, it’s up to legislators to decide from a policy standpoint if the voucher program is effective,” said Terry Spradlin, director for education policy at Indiana University’s Center for Evaluation and Education Policy. “For some kids it probably is, but we don’t know if that’s the case for all.”
The court has left the decision on the benefits of the program up to the legislature…a legislature which is overwhelmingly pro-privatization.
…and the goal is privatization. It’s no longer just for helping poor kids leave their struggling schools (struggling because of poverty and lack of resources from the state). The expanded voucher plan now being considered in the General Assembly no longer can claim that it’s goal is to help poor kids…or to save the state money. It’s about moving funding and support from the public schools to private schools.
Further, is there anyone who doubts that, given a larger amount provided by the voucher, the cost for a private school education will increase accordingly?
Sold as a ticket out of “failing” schools for modest-income families, the program under House Bill 1003 no longer would require prior attendance in a public school for many children, including kindergartners and siblings of voucher recipients. Thus, public schools would lose state money preemptively; and they’d lose more every year, as the bill removes the current cap on the already-fast-growing number to be issued. Private school lobbyists, meanwhile, are clamoring for a higher stipend.
State Superintendent of Public Instruction Glenda Ritz, who ran for election in opposition to vouchers, has asked the legislature to hold off on the huge expansion until the two-year-old program has been evaluated. But the Democrat has won little sympathy from the other party in her posture toward the brainchild of the man she defeated in November, Tony Bennett. Clearly, she views the “public” part of her title differently from her predecessor, an unabashed fan of private and parochial schools, which have turned out to be the beneficiaries of more than 90 percent of voucher money.
Why won’t the forces of privatization wait for an evaluation of the current voucher plan? Because private schools don’t do any better than public schools given similar students. To repeat, students attending private schools don’t do better, as a group, than comparable students in public schools. Vouchers don’t improve education. Waiting for an evaluation of the program would only reinforce that fact, and the privatizers don’t want that to become common knowledge. See here, here, here, and here.
Diane Ravitch clears away the smoke…privatization is a benefit for people who want to discriminate…politically, economically, religiously and academically.
The schools getting the vouchers may require students to participate in religious exercise, and they typically do.
The schools getting vouchers may not discriminate on the basis of race, color, or national origin, “But they are free to discriminate on the basis of religion, gender, disability, sexual orientation, test scores, IQ, family income, parental politics or just about any other criteria you can imagine.”
It is hard to square this decision with the language of the state constitution.
The radical choice ideologues in Indiana don’t like public education. Left in power, they will destroy it.
The students most in need will remain in the public schools, and the state, through the legislature, is willing to let them remain in need. One of Pence’s proposals is to reward (with increased funding) “successful” schools (READ: higher income) and punish “failing” schools (READ: schools with high levels of poverty.
After this year, there will be no limit on the number of students who can participate. It’s open to children from middle-income families, not just poor families. And there’s no requirement that students first attend a low-performing public school in order to qualify.
As Indiana University School of Education school law expert Suzanne Eckes suggests, the program flies in the face of conceptions of freedom of religion and fair access that we’ve come to expect under the federal and state constitutions.
For example, Indiana’s law is unusual in that it lets parochial schools compel voucher students to take part in religious activities. “Interestingly, no other voucher program in the country includes this type of requirement,” Eckes says. And voucher schools get a pass from the usual state rules against discrimination. They can’t bar students because of “race, color or national origin.” But they are free to discriminate on the basis of religion, gender, disability, sexual orientation, test scores, IQ, family income, parental politics or just about any other criteria you can imagine…
…The court makes clear at the outset that it’s not endorsing vouchers as public policy. “Our individual policy preferences are not relevant,” it says. In other words, if we don’t like it, we should take it up with the legislature. Indeed we should.
The politicians, pundits and policy makers haven’t been able to — or haven’t chosen to — solve the problems of poverty, increased social stratification, and an increased income gap. The expanded voucher program will not solve this problem…nor will it help Indiana’s children.
If you live in Indiana, contact your legislators HERE and urge them to vote against HB 1003, the bill to expand the state’s voucher plan.