Baron Hill: Roncalli situation shows why vouchers are wrong

August 24, 2018

Baron HillNo matter how good a school might be (and I’m sure Roncalli High School is a great school), using tax dollars to send children to private schools is bad public policy—especially when tax money is going to religious schools.

Roncalli is a Catholic school that recently put on administrative leave a woman who has worked at the school for 15 years. The reason? She is married to another woman. For religious reasons, Roncalli might eventually fire this woman. How can anyone justify giving the school $6.5 million in taxpayer money over the last five years when it is making decisions about personnel for religious reasons?

Now, I know that, in June 2002, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in a 5-4 decision that school voucher programs do not constitute the establishment of religion. Those majority-court members were wrong. The minority-court members were right in saying: “Public tax money will pay a systemic level for teaching the covenant with Israel, and Mosaic law in Jewish schools, the primacy of the Apostle Peter and the Papacy in Catholic schools ... .”

The religious views of the apostle Peter and the papacy are valued principles of the Roman Catholic Church. The congregations and schools of these churches have every right to teach them and practice them—but not at taxpayers’ expense. The Roncalli decision about this teacher was made because of the aforementioned “Christian principles,” and it is wrong for the rest of us to have to pay in support of this decision.

There are other reasons school voucher programs are bad public policy. First, tax money should go to public schools, which are required to accept all students. Private schools do not have to accept all students.

Second, there is evidence that children attending private schools do no better than children who attend public schools. Studies of the longest-running school voucher program in the country, in Milwaukee, found that public-school students outperformed voucher students in statewide reading and math tests.

In Indiana, studies have been conducted to determine the effectiveness of the voucher program. The evaluation examined the outcome of students using vouchers for the 2011-2012 and 2014-2015 school years. More than 34,000 students receive vouchers. The evaluation compared students who transferred to voucher schools with similar students who remained in public schools. It found that students who used vouchers performed worse, on average, than students who attended public schools. Researchers speculate that private schools might lack the ability or resources to educate students who have not done well academically.

Put it all together and you wonder why Indiana, or any other state, is gambling by spending millions of dollars on a voucher theory that has not produced results and violates the separation of church and state. It is time to stand up and stop the voucher program.

A while ago, I had a conversation with a member of the Indiana General Assembly who told me the voucher program has now become a part of our culture and, while she questions the results of the vouchers, we couldn’t end it. Yes, we can, and should.

My wife, sister and sister-in-law were all public-school teachers for more than 90 collective years. I witnessed personally their dedication and hard work. Let’s start respecting our public-school teachers again and give them the support and the dollars they need to get the job done.•

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Hill is a Democrat and former congressman from the 9th District in Southern Indiana. Send comments to ibjedit@ibj.com.

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