The Battle Over School Vouchers

Posted by on May 18, 2017 in Education

The argument over private school choice has received a lot of attention in the media lately, with both President Trump and Education Secretary Betsy DeVos expressing full support for the idea. Just in time for the end of the school year, btw takes a look at the fight over private school vouchers in Indiana, the largest program of its kind in the country.

Shutterstock/Syda Productions

Credit: Shutterstock/Syda Productions

How It All Began

In 2011, Indiana state lawmakers instituted the Indiana Choice Scholarship Program, which allowed low-income students to use vouchers (paid for with public school dollars) to attend private school. In other words, the money the government provides for each public school student could be transferred to a private school if the student chose to attend there instead. The program was capped at 7,500 students. Its goal was to provide low-income children the opportunity to attend a better school than they might have ordinarily. Participating students had to be low-income, and had to have already attended public school. In essence, this gave the public schools “first shot” at keeping every student.

In 2013, Mike Pence became governor of Indiana, and began changing the program’s rules, expanding them so that more and more students would qualify. Today, more than 34,000 students are enrolled in the Indiana Choice Scholarship Program. More than half of them have never attended a public school, and a third of them are too financially secure to qualify for free or reduced-price meals. The number of suburban and middle-class students involved in the program continues to rise, meaning that the program is no longer serving the population it was originally intended to serve.

Why School Vouchers?

The fundamental argument behind school vouchers is that parents–not the government or geography–have the right to choose where their children attend school. Those parents who elect private school for their children continue to pay taxes, but their tax dollars go to private, rather than to public, schools. In some people’s views,  voucher programs allow improved educational opportunities for students who wouldn’t otherwise have them due to finances or geography. Also, several states have actually seen an improvement in their public schools, as they are forced to compete with private institutions for students. The school voucher program has also allowed some schools to use excess federal funding to pay for increased teacher salaries and improved classroom technology.

Why Not School Vouchers?

The main problem with the school voucher program is that it takes tax dollars away from already-struggling public schools. When a student leaves a public school for a private school using the voucher program, the public school system loses thousands of dollars that it needs to pay for teachers and classrooms.

Private schools are also not held by law to the same standards as public schools. For example, public schools are required to provide every student with a comprehensive and appropriate education, regardless of that student’s race, religion, sexual orientation, gender identification, or disability. However, private schools are not required to accept a student with a physical or learning disability, which many view as discrimination. Private schools can also prohibit any student from attending on “moral” grounds. One private Christian school in Bloomington forbids students from being homosexual or bisexual, or from exploring alternate gender identities. This same school receives roughly $665,000 from state tax dollars in the form of vouchers, which is a problem when one considers that, according to the Constitution, church and state must be kept separate. Moreover, private schools are not held to the same academic rules that public schools are. In many cases, there has been evidence of academic decline among students enrolled in the private school voucher program.

One thing is certain: people on both sides of the school voucher issue feel very strongly about their position. As we look ahead to how to educate the next generation of American students, it’s important to consider every side of these important issues.

What Do You Think? Would you support a private school voucher program like Indiana’s in your home state? Why or why not? Give at least three reasons to support your position.