School boards push back against Indiana voucher expansions

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Local school leaders across Indiana are lining up against a Republican-backed school funding plan over concerns it would give private schools a big financial boost at the detriment of traditional public schools.

Projected to cost $144 million, the voucher expansion and a new program allowing parents to directly spend state money on their child’s education expenses would make up more than one-third of the proposed state funding hike for Indiana schools.

In response, at least 65 public school boards have passed formal resolutions against the proposed legislation through a campaign organized by the Indiana School Boards Association. Terry Spradlin, the association’s executive director, said that more than a third of the state’s 289 school districts are expected to adopt resolutions before legislators finalize the budget next month.

“Folks are speaking up and speaking out locally and that’s what we’re encouraging them to do,” he said. “We’re arguing that now’s not the time for additional expansion. We want public funds to fund public schools. We want them to support public education and have the dollars follow the child.”

In addition to urban school districts around Indianapolis, Fort Wayne and Evansville, dozens of smaller school corporations have also signaled their dissent.

In what’s believed to be the first and largest meeting of its kind in Indiana, members of eight school boards in rural northern Indiana gathered last week to each pass respective resolutions. Five other school boards sent representatives or administrators to the meeting, though they did not hold votes.

“Some may ask, ‘Why are we meeting on these bills when many of us don’t have private or charter schools in our districts, or even close to our districts?’” North White Superintendent Nick Eccles said during last week’s meeting. “My response is simple: Any of us can have a charter or private school move into our districts at any time, which can greatly cripple our budgets.”

Thirty-three of Indiana’s 92 counties do not have a voucher program option, and another 31 counties only have one private school taking part in the program, Spradlin said. Nearly all of those students are instead educated through public schools, meaning “those dollars should come back home and support our kids,” he said.

“Increasing the funds for those programs from … that’s taking away and diverting money that could go to our schools, our students, our families, our constituents and our communities,” Spradlin said. “We can tinker around the edges with these fringe programs that educate a few, and a small percentage of children, or we can invest in our public education system with 1 million of our citizens enrolled in those schools.”

Republicans who dominated the Legislature say their proposal gives parents more choices over how to educate their children, while Democrats and other opponents argue that it further drains funding from traditional school districts while they are struggling to find ways to boost the state’s lagging teacher pay.

The debate comes as the state Senate is considering both the state budget plan and school voucher expansion bill approved by the House last month.

The House budget plan would increase the base funding for K-12 schools by 1.25% during the first year and 2.5% in the second year of the new budget that would start in July. That would mean about $378 million more for total school funding over the two years—with about $125 million possibly going to additional voucher costs and $19 million to the new family spending account program.

The voucher plan approved by the House would raise income eligibility for a family of four from the current roughly $96,000 a year to about $145,000 in 2022. It also would allow all those students to receive the full voucher amount, rather than the current tiered system that limits full vouchers to such families with incomes of about $48,000.

The new program dubbed education savings accounts providing grants to parents of children with special needs to spend on their education. Students in foster care, as well as some whose parents are serving in the military or are veterans, would also for the stipends. Parents could choose to use the money to pay for tuition, or for other education expenses like tutoring, therapy or technological devices.

The voucher program changes are projected to boost participation by some 12,000 students, or about one-third, over the next two years from the current enrollment of some 37,000 students. About 1 million students attend traditional public schools in the state.

“Without high quality public schools, our democracy is going to crumble,” said J.T. Coopman, executive director of the Indiana Association of Public School Superintendents. “Ninety-two-percent of the kids in Indiana attend public schools. Why are we diverting money away from the majority of kids?”

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14 thoughts on “School boards push back against Indiana voucher expansions

  1. Rather than admit that there has been a massive erosion of confidence in public schools and working to reverse that, the worst performing school districts are reduced to pleading that they should continue to collect money that desperate parents would rather have spent elsewhere, for a better product. There’s a lesson in there, if school administrators are willing to take it.

    1. I am being hyperbolic. Let me clarify:

      I should have also said that charter schools and private schools are scams too. 9-12 education in the US is broken and inefficient in general. But like I said, I am being hyperbolic. It’s not a scam, but it has serious issues and needs to be looked at very closely.

      The institutions that teach children in the United States treat them like cattle or prisoners. In America, the school generally fail to:

      A.) Teach students adequately and prepare them for higher education, whether it be college, university, or a trade school.

      B.) Adequately teach students to critically think and how to be an adult.

      C.) Facilitate a love for learning in children instead of facilitating apathy or anxiety about learning.

      D.) Give students enough freedom to develop proper personal responsibility.

      Additionally, a high school diploma is near meaningless. I would wager that the majority of students are ready for community college by 10th grade. Most schools don’t provide as much value and they advertise. Countries all over the world have figured this out and only mandate 2 years of high school before moving on to an equivalent to community college.

  2. I’ve spent a career in business, and I always wanted good, strong competitors. I found that when I had good competitors, I by necessity had to have a better company with improved products or services. Market competition will either force you to improve your product, or force you out of business if you refuse to change. Either outcome is better than the status quo.

    1. Your analogy doesn’t hold up for a PUBLIC SERVICE. Public schools are crippled by regulations from the state and then their funding diverted to private entities that can pick and choose which choice students to accept.
      This expansion of vouchers won’t even go to needy students who are currently lacking options. They will go to upper-middle class households who are already sending their kids to private school but now get to have the state pay for it.

    2. Joseph, thanks for your reply. My analogy was especially intended for certain public services, like schools. If public schools are crippled by state regulations, why are we allowing and encouraging that? Perhaps by examining successful charter schools, we can see where our public schools are crippled and change those regulations. I would offer Paramount Schools of Excellence as a shining example of how non-public schools are making a real difference for the very populations that public schools are leaving behind. Of course, there will be alternative schools that fail, as you note elsewhere. When parents have a choice about where to send their children to school, the schools that best serve them will be rewarded with more students and more funding. Those that don’t will close their doors. It would be wonderful if every family, regardless of their income, could be able to choose a top-notch school for their children. I’m not familiar enough with the proposed plan to know if it fully funds the cost of alternative schools for needy families. It should.

    3. If charter schools actually were what they were sold as, and if there was sufficient oversight and consequences to being a bad school, I’d be inclined to agree with you. But right now, this is a handout to the charter school and religious groups, pure and simple. It has nothing to do with parents or kids. It’s all about the money.

      A charter school stole $85 million from the state of Indiana and the response from Indiana hasn’t been to increase oversight, it’s been to hand out more money.

      And, Paramount, Why only hold public schools to their standards? Why aren’t other charter schools held to high standards? Why shouldn’t they all do what Paramount does since it works so well? It’s not as though charter schools do any better of a job of educating kids than public schools (look it up).

    4. Joe, thanks for your comments. We probably agree that the $85m scandal was egregious and oversight should be put in place to prevent fraud, especially at such magnitude. But we are throwing the proverbial baby out with the bathwater if we say that because a couple charter schools failed spectacularly in this way, then we should eliminate all charter schools. And, in fact, I would (rather the market would) hold all schools, not just public ones, to the standards of the best schools. Having talked with many people at both religious and charter schools, I can confirm that their mission is first and foremost about the kids, not the money. In this, they align with the parents.

      Your question about why other schools don’t do what Paramount does is a good one. I don’t know the answer, but it’s worth investigating. And I believe their outcomes are far above equivalent public schools.

    5. I don’t support expanding charter school programs until it can be explained how future such theft will be stopped. I never said anything about getting rid of charter schools.

      And the knowledge transfer is always perceived, as you note, to be very one-way. Public schools should always adapt what private schools are doing, but private schools that aren’t functioning well (and there are many) face no such pressure to adopt what other private schools or even public schools are doing. Matter of fact, they can just go find a different school district to endorse them.

      If you’re going to tell me a handful of Indiana universities are the sole endorsers of private/charter schools, and that we are going to rigorously study what they do and spread best practices around, then I feel much better about the amount of money were spending. But that’s the complete opposite approach that we are taking in Indiana, all we do is hand out money and care very little about the results.

      And it doesn’t matter how low our taxes are if we don’t have a workforce that is well educated. We simply do not spend enough on education in Indiana, especially not enough to divert the bulk of any funding increases to a narrow minority of the schools in the state.

      My children have been in private and public schools and I found the motivations of leadership at both the same as far as helping kids. The curriculum at the private school we were at, though, was much more about indoctrinating kids then challenging them to be their best and brightest. Which is one reason why we left…

  3. The State wants to subsidize private school for families making $145,000/year? That’s ridiculous! Are they going to start subsidizing people buying brand new cars too? If you’re a married couple with two kids making that amount of money, you can certainly afford a house in an area with a good school district, or pay tuition for private school.