Stalled in Georgia, vouchers advance in Indiana this week

While vouchers are not moving this legislative session in Georgia, an expansive bill — the broadest in the country — was passed by the Indiana House this week and is expected to also pass the Senate. The bill phases in school vouchers, but eventually enables even middle-class families to receive tax dollars for private schools.

Here is a story from the Indianapolis Star:

A bill to give tax dollars to some families to pay for private school tuition is headed to the Senate for debate.

The House voted 56-42 for House Bill 1003, with four Republicans joining 38 Democrats in opposition.

Democrats argued that there is no solid evidence that giving vouchers to students improves their performance or forces public schools to do better to retain students, and that it will drain money from public schools when they are facing budget cuts.

“Why would you want to vote for a bill that siphons money away from public schools, that does not improve student achievement and entangles the government with religious and private schools? I say that’s a three-time loser, and we should vote no on this bill,” argued Rep. Matt Pierce, D-Bloomington.

And Rep. Ed DeLaney, D-Indianapolis, said it will hurt charitable contributions like the ones he has made to support Catholic schools, as people decide not to give their own money if tax dollars are available. And with those tax dollars come government interference, he said.

“Where power and money goes, control goes,” DeLaney said. “The state will, by its nature, assert authority.”

Republicans, though, said this is about Indiana’s children, period.

“Which one of us wants to pick the child that doesn’t get this choice?” asked Rep. Rhonda Rhoads, R-Corydon, who is a retired teacher.

House Speaker Brian Bosma, R-Indianapolis, said he comes from a family of teachers. This, he said, is not about dismantling public schools or criticizing public school teachers.

“This is about promoting opportunity, focused tightly on those that have no choice today,” he said. “I’m not here to condemn a system or to condemn a profession, but I’m not here to protect a system, either.”

Instead, he said, this is about giving parents without the same financial means that many legislators have the same options to choose a private school.

The bill, co-authored by Bosma and Rep. Robert Behning, R-Indianapolis, would give a student a percentage of the money that would have gone to his or her local public school. A student whose family’s income equals 100 percent of the threshold to qualify for free or reduced-cost lunches would get 90 percent of that money. For a student whose family’s income equals 150 percent of that threshold, the student would get 50 percent of the money.

That means a family of four with an income of $61,000 would qualify for vouchers at the 50 percent level.

The remaining school money a student does not qualify for is spread among all Indiana public schools. Democrats argued that because that money doesn’t stay with the public school the student would have attended, and that private schools tend to be in urban areas, districts such as those in Lake and Marion counties will be hurt.

Democrats had held out for changes to this bill during their five-week walkout that ended Monday. Among the changes: Republicans agreed to limit the number of vouchers available to 7,500 in the first year and 15,000 in the second.

That cap disappears in the third year.

During a Statehouse rally earlier Wednesday, several hundred education reform proponents urged legislators to hold steady on reforms, saying Indiana has a historic opportunity to tilt its education system toward parental choice.

Michelle Rhee, the former chancellor of schools in Washington, D.C., who now runs a school reform nonprofit, was a featured speaker. “We have the opportunity in Indiana today for this state to be leading the change across the rest of the nation,” Rhee said.

–From Maureen Downey, for the AJC Get Schooled blog

22 comments Add your comment


March 31st, 2011
9:53 am

Ahh, Indiana. Where even a guy who has committed election fraud can get elected Secretary of State simply because he had an R next to his name.

So, will the private schools be required to take ELL students (there are a lot of them in Indiana) or special ed students or students with behavior problems or students living in poverty? Or will they continue to select their students, leaving the public schools with less money and a higher concentration of students with greater needs?


March 31st, 2011
10:57 am

Bottom line, the performance of many, many public schools is indefensible. They’re unsafe, nonfunctional and fail utterly to engage and educate students. Why protect the failing system, and sacrifice yet more classes of students to the status quo?

Tax money is not confiscated to fund the public schools; the societal good that justifies taxation is the education of the citizenry. Public schools were set up to deliver this benefit, and those that do will continue to attract students. Those that fail will not, and those students currently trapped in failing schools will have a chance to get out.

Forcing school systems to earn their money, rather than just taking it, is the only thing that may finally get their attention diverted from protecting their own bureaucracies to focusing on attracting students. And cutting budgets while funding competition may just act to make school districts finally cut administrative costs instead of always taking money from the classroom.

Parents will still have skin in the game, as these vouchers will not cover all the costs associated with most private schools. The decision, therefore, will not be made lightly, and schools that offer parents and students an acceptable educational experience, or that act as loci for the communities,are unlikely to lose many students.

Yes, irisheyes, I’m sure that private schools will continue to be selective in their acceptances. I’m also sure that the market will respond, expanding existing schools and seeing new schools open that serve those students and parents wanting out of their public school. That may focus the public schools on the needs of the students choosing to stay, and/or it may encourage special ed schools to open that will provide more effective schooling in return for the massive spending we currently make on that segment of the public school population.

This may work, and it may not. We know, however, that the current system does not work in far too many cases, and competition will drain those failing schools first. I’d much rather see my tax money invested in effective education than in Beverly Hall’s bonus.


March 31st, 2011
11:13 am

Shar, There is no competition when the results are not measured. How do you propose to compare students from poor, “failing” public schools and wealth successful private schools? Aren’t the measures we currently use simply confirming what we already know about the social order? Private schools benefit from having little testing apparatus that has oppressed public school students. This makes competition simply a marketing ploy for newspaper headlines, rather than any meaningful supply and demand. The administrative costs in public education were created by the same folks demanding vouchers. You cannot have it both ways. History, if you studied it, would reveal the purposes of public education in our democracy. They would also reveal that schools have been “failing” since it was political opportune to do so, and the rhetoric of “failure” has existed since Sputnik, simply to dismantle the system entirely. Frankly, those in power don’t want to educate in any meaningful way those who are not.


March 31st, 2011
11:23 am

Shar, public schools reflect the community. Public schools in ghettos and other failing communities are failing, while public schools in affluent suburbs generally perform as well as or better than exclusive private schools.

Please show where any of your predicted outcomes have actually come to pass in those places that have funded vouchers for years. The studies I’ve seen show little to no significant change in achievement for students who receive vouchers, and also no change in public schools attributable to vouchers.

2 cents

March 31st, 2011
12:06 pm

k, just have to throw it out there. they want to crash the public school system

for whatever reason:


class warfare

more money in their own pockets

does not matter; if you think the end game of this is to help the poor student; you really need to get out from under your rock.


March 31st, 2011
1:19 pm

People are beginning to see vouchers for what they are: a method of taking from the poor to benefit the wealthy. Vouchers have been shown to have NO (zero) effect on student achievement and are now shown to have NEGATIVE effect on minorities’ achievement. (Recent study of Milwaukee schools for those who want to look it up.)

Shar’s claim that “many, many” schools are failing and dangerous is also false. While some schools are failing, it is easy to see that these schools are concentrated in areas of high poverty. It is easy to blame these schools for “failing” but it is not so easy to try to tackle the true problems that create the situation.

Vouchers DO NOT benefit schools through creation of competition, either. This idea is simply a diversion away from the loss of funds to educate children. For the schools that are in crisis, it will take much more than vouchers, charter schools, or other fads to cure the problems. It is about time for our politicians to look at the real causes of poor performance in schools.


March 31st, 2011
1:56 pm

Really disappointed there is an income component tied to the vouchures. Just because a student’s family does not fall into the poverty bracket, does not mean the family has the resources to fund a private education. Low family income is a symptom, not the cause of many of the problems students bring to school.

2 cents

March 31st, 2011
3:50 pm

also, notice Rhee was attempting to lead the parade. when her resume is in question; wow maybe i will just make up a load of crap put that on my resume and see what happens. whats the worst that could happen coaching at GT?


March 31st, 2011
3:57 pm

Historydawg, I have studied history but I am still, it seems, an idiot. I cannot make heads or tails of your points. Yes, there will have to be some testable outcome to account for the efficacy of public funding, and there will be private schools that refuse to participate in the program because they do not want to answer to federal or state mandates. Why that becomes, or is associated with, a “marketing ploy” is unclear to me, Schools have, of course, been ‘failing’ since there were schools to fail (or succeed), but the time of Sputnik is also the time, roughly speaking, of the Great Society push, and the concommitant larding of schools with social welfare programs they were never designed to deliver and with which they struggle today.

ScienceTeacher, is your argument that failing schools come from failing communities and that therefore there is no point in trying to improve educational outcomes until the communities are fixed? I would prefer to allow bright, motivated, underserved students to take the initiative and get out of those environments rather than wait for the entire community to be uplifted. Also, those schools you mention as generally doing an acceptable job will not lose large numbers of students to vouchers. The average income level would require a substantial investment by the parents and the schools are delivering educational outcomes of sufficient quality that there is no pressing need to remove the students.

As far as voucher market performance, Tony and ScienceTeacher, I Googled quickly and saw studies from Cleveland and Milwaukee that seem reasonablly comprehensive if somewhat dated. The summaries of these studies indicated test score improvements on the part of the scholarship students in both cities, although the Milwaukee case study had some falling scores reported in the first review that were rebutted as being caused by faulty statistical analysis in a followup study.

All I’m saying is that there are too many kids – bright, capable kids – trapped in terrible schools and as long as the district and state bureaucracies continue to be paid for ‘educating’ those children substantive improvements will not be made. The money needs to be taken from the hands of the complacent and those students seeking greater educational opportunity need to be helped – now, not some indeterminate number of years from now when the next great ‘reform’ is tried out. Every year that passes means another cohort of kids lost to administrative self-interest and acceptance of failure, and I find that to be far more unacceptable than dropping funding for public schools that work only as safe employment havens instead of places that prepare chldren for a successful future.

Clayco Parent

March 31st, 2011
4:19 pm

Ok, I’m not clear on this, so please someone break it down for me if I have it wrong…

What it sounds like is the very poor will get to go to private school while the middle class kids will have to stay in their public school (because they don’t qualify for a voucher). And of course the wealthy keep on keepin on with whatever wealthy people do. Speaking from personal experience, I can attest to the fact that there are indeed poor performing/dangerous schools within the middle class community. So how is this fair across the board?
What am I missing here? <———Not being sarcastic, I'm truly interested and would like to know.


March 31st, 2011
5:26 pm

Shar, what you missed in reviewing those studies is that the voucher kids and the non-voucher kids BOTH posted gains and there were no statistical differences in those gains. In other words, vouchers are not the panacea that some would lead you to believe. These results are being substantiated by more recent reviews in other cities. I applaud your concern for the students who are not getting the best education possible from their local schools and I wish there were easy answers for those families. Unfortunately, there are not easy answers for anyone.


March 31st, 2011
6:46 pm

Shar, I’m not saying that there’s no point, I’m saying there is no silver bullet, including vouchers.

The bright, motivated children from poor communities frequently get vouchers to private schools already. For our rural children, there are often no alternatives to the local public school.

I’d just rather see us make a real and concerted attempt to improve education for all children than pretend that vouchers will have more than a small effect.


March 31st, 2011
8:41 pm

I’m not picking on you, Shar (promise); just responding to a couple of things from your last post…Currently the special needs vouchers are offered in GA and are not dependent upon family income. I have worked in one of the “failing” schools and will readily agree that there are students with disabilities that are both bright and capable (many have IQs that are average and above average but have learning disabillities)are “trapped” in this school. Poverty is a significant issue for most of these students. I also work at high-income, affluent schools as well (I am itinerant and move around during the week). I have seen first-hand that the only students that have benefitted from the special needs vouchers are those in affluent homes. These vouchers have enabled students (who already attended some of the top schools in the state and had above-average results with students with disabilities) to go to private school on the taxpayers’ dime. Meanwhile, the students that could have really benefitted are stuck, because even if the voucher covers tuition (good luck finding a school with tuition that low), there are so many extras to pay for with private school (including transportation, and most of these families don’t have cars).

The market did not “respond” to these vouchers being available in low-income areas – no private schools sudddenly appeared or began accepting these students (especially those with behavior problems or more signficant disabilities). There is no increased competition to improve the “failing” schools’ performance because no private schools are within reach (financially or geographically) for these students.

The schools that did pop-up for special needs students in the high-income areas (or began accepting students with disabilities) do not have provide teachers who are certified in working with students with disabilities. Nor do these schools have any accountability measures (no CRCT, no Georgia Alternate Assessment, no IEP). One of these schools kicked out a public school employee at an open house – I’m still curious to know what they are hiding. The same school doesn’t provide therapies to their students (OT, PT, speech) with significant disabilities. They pull on parents’ heart strings and make promises of being so much better than the public schools, but in reality they are not providing anywhere near the services that the public schools provide (a parent explained to me the teaching strategy this school used with her child, which is NOT research-based nor proven to work). They are preying on parents’ emotions and the false belief that public schools are failling our children; an idea that you seem to believe as well. Its a sad situation for both the students that cannot access decent private schools (via the voucher) as well as the parents who can afford private school but don’t have enough knowledge about teaching and research to make an informed decision. I have no idea if anyone is even studying if this voucher is helping anyone. As someone who has dedicated my career to helping students with disabilities and a as taxpayer, I find this thinly veiled attempt to help well-off families pay tuition to be distasteful at best.

Struggling Teacher

April 1st, 2011
5:56 am

So the students who don’t qualify for vouchers or the students who cannot afford private schools will be left in the “failing” school.” this is “free and appropriate education with least restrictive environment” for all students? I don’t get it.


April 1st, 2011
4:04 pm

@struggling….this was the way it seemed to me also… I guess we should stop working so our kids can qualify for a voucher?!?

[...] the Obama Administration for the last two years. In Indiana, legislation that has been cited as the “broadest” voucher expansion bill in the country similarly won hands-down in the Indiana [...]

[...] the Obama Administration for the last two years. In Indiana, legislation that has been cited as the “broadest” voucher expansion bill in the country similarly won hands-down in the Indiana [...]

[...] the Obama Administration for the last two years. In Indiana, legislation that has been cited as the “broadest” voucher expansion bill in the country similarly won hands-down in the Indiana [...]

Struggling Teacher

April 2nd, 2011
7:08 pm

Vouchers are a bandaid for what’s wrong with public education. Good for the kids who can move on and bad for the kids who have to stay. Good for the charters with select enrollment and bad for the kids who have to stay. Discipline and high expectations should be for all schools and not just for the private and charter schools. Charter schools get to set their own rules while the public schools have to play by the rules of every mandate from local to federal. What’s balanced about that? Fix the public schools period.

[...] the Obama Administration for the last two years. In Indiana, legislation that has been cited as the “broadest” voucher expansion bill in the country similarly won hands-down in the Indiana [...]

[...] the Obama Administration for the last two years. In Indiana, legislation that has been cited as the “broadest” voucher expansion bill in the country similarly won hands-down in the Indiana [...]

jim fixit

April 5th, 2011
3:00 pm

Well, maybe it’s just me; there’s a lot to like and a lot to dislike about vouchers. What I don’t get are the arguments that seem to stem from some strange ideas to begin with.

1) The ‘government’ has no money except what it takes away from the private citizen. To say that vouchers ‘take money away’ from governtment (oh, sorry, ‘public’) schools is backwards. Why don’t we just let parents keep their money, and tend to their child’s education? That’s their responsibility.

2) There will always be poor. Perhaps if we stopped subsidizing them, there’d be fewer of them. Among some of the worst arguments I’ve heard against school vouchers (and yes, I’ve read this on many forums) is that many of the nation’s poor rely on school lunches, which private schools won’t provide. I thought we were talking about educating our kids not another welfare program. Conversely, I would be happy to contribute to the education of a less fortunate…if I had any money left over after all the taxes, but I don’t.

3) About the higher expense of dealing with the ‘left over’ children, those ’selected against’ by the private schools…there are private schools for the learning disabled. I know because in 1960 my sister went to one. She could not learn with the rest of the kids in a tradtional environment but my parents felt it was important to let her do what she could. What is this nonsense about pulling everyone down to a lower standard so that a few can reach slightly higher? Our entire nation will be below average or worse at that point. Horror of horrors that we might ‘group’ kids together based on capabilities so that a single teacher can meet the collective needs rather than trying to “span” a group with such diverse capabilities.

4) About teachers who have to deal with kids who are hungry, tardy, whose parents don’t care, etc. etc. My hats off to you for taking that on but, I see no reason for our entire nation to fail the majority of the children because some folks chose to reproduce irresponsibly, and refuse to be a parent to their kids. With all the public programs advanced in or by the schools, it’s easy for a parent to just step out of the picture. Maybe government schools should be holding parents to a higher standard instead of trying to fill in the gap. I know of no greater motivator than need. I know this by first hand experience. My parents scraped to get my sister into that private school. We did not have a lot. My desire to not be in that situation when I became an adult motivated me as a teenager to avoid wasting time on sports (which would not provide a paying career), avoid irresponsible spending, avoid teenage parenting, and pushed me to go to college, which I paid for by working. Maybe the schools have good intentions but they are circumventing the natural cycle of need/motivation/hardwork/reward. And the more money you take out of my pocket for your failed experiments in education, the less reward I see for my hard work.

Finally, some argue against vouchers as though government schools have no choice, (i.e. as if they ‘have’ to keep the trouble makers, they ‘have’ to put up with…whatever). No, they don’t. Schools are mandated by state law to do certain things. Those laws are enacted by elected officials, and we vote those officials in and out of office.

We are the fix; not the government. Not the NEA, not any of those so called experts. WE are the fix, but we have to stop being afraid of change. Anything has to be better than what we have. I say try the vouchers. Better still tax credits so the money never gets touched by the government. Less overhead is always better. Let the chips fall where they may, we cannot get less return on investment than we do today.