Betsy DeVos Education Industry Mike Pence Privatization Vouchers

Mother Jones: Mike Pence’s Voucher Program for Religious Schools

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Indiana has one of the most expansive voucher programs in the nation, even though the state constitution explicitly forbids spending public money for religious schools. The state courts decided that the constitution doesn’t mean what it says. Former Governor Mitch Daniels initiated the voucher program and Mike Pence expanded it. Although born a Catholic, Pence is now an evangelical Christian.

 

Mother Jones investigated the Indiana voucher program and found that it has been a boon for religious schools, including many that teach creationism. Student performance in the voucher schools is poor; maybe someday the state will realize that it has to save kids who are failing to learn in mediocre voucher schools.

 

“One of Vice President-elect Mike Pence’s pet projects as governor of Indiana was expanding school choice vouchers, which allow public money to pay for private school tuition. President-elect Donald Trump has said he’d like to expand such vouchers in the rest of the country, but what happened in Indiana should serve as a cautionary tale for Trump and his administration.

 

“Pence’s voucher program ballooned into a $135 million annual bonanza almost exclusively benefiting private religious schools—ranging from those teaching the Koran to Christian schools teaching creationism and the Bible as literal truth—at the expense of regular and usually better-performing public schools. Indeed, one of the schools was a madrasa, an Islamic religious school, briefly attended by a young man arrested this summer for trying to join ISIS—just the kind of place Trump’s coalition would find abhorrent.

 

“In Indiana, Pence created one of the largest publicly funded voucher programs in the country. Initially launched in 2011 under Republican Gov. Mitch Daniels, it was sold as a way to give poor, minority children trapped in bad public schools a way out. “Social justice has come to Indiana education,” Daniels declared after the voucher legislation passed. It was supposed to be a small program, initially capped at 7,500 vouchers. Full vouchers, worth 90 percent of the per-pupil spending in a school district, were reserved for families with incomes up to 100 percent of the cutoff for free or reduced-price school lunch, about $45,000 a year for a family of four.

 

“But in 2013, Pence and the state’s GOP-controlled Legislature raised the income limits on the program so that a family of four with up to $90,000 in annual income became eligible for vouchers covering half their private school tuition. They also removed most requirements that students come from a public school to access the vouchers, making families already attending private school eligible for tuition subsidies, thus removing any pretense that the vouchers were a tool to help poor children escape failing schools.

 

“Pence’s school choice experiment demonstrates that vouchers can create a host of thorny political problems and potential church- and-state issues.

 
“By the 2015-16 school year, the number of students using state-funded vouchers had shot up to more than 32,000 in 316 private schools. But Pence’s school choice experiment demonstrates that vouchers can create a host of thorny political problems and potential church-and-state issues. Almost every single one of these voucher schools is religious. The state Department of Education can’t tell parents which or even whether any of the voucher schools are secular. (A state spokeswoman told me Indiana doesn’t collect data on the school’s religious affiliation.) Out of the list of more than 300 schools, I could find only four that weren’t overtly religious and, of those, one was solely for students with Asperger’s syndrome and other autism spectrum disorders, and the other is an alternative school for at-risk students.

 

“Opponents, including public school teachers and local clergy, sued the state to try to block the voucher program in 2011, arguing that it clearly violated the state constitutional provisions that protect taxpayers from having to support religion. They were also concerned that the money going to the religious schools was coming directly from local public school systems, draining them of critical funding in violation of the state constitution. But the Indiana state Supreme Court ruled in 2013 that the voucher program was constitutional because public money was going to the students and not to religious institutions directly….

 

“Perhaps not surprisingly, the kids in these schools aren’t performing very well on the state’s standardized tests, putting voucher schools among the state’s worst-performing schools. The three campuses of Horizon Christian Academy rank near the bottom. Two of its schools were once for-profit charter schools that lost their charters because they were badly underperforming. They reconstituted as private religious schools and now take taxpayer-funded vouchers. In 2015, less than 9 percent of the students at one of the Horizon campuses passed the state standardized tests in math and English, a rate worse than most of the state’s public schools from which the vouchers were supposed to provide an escape.

 

“A study by researchers at Notre Dame University published last year shows that in the first three years of the program, Indiana kids who left public schools to attend voucher schools saw their math scores decline in comparison with their peers who remained in regular public schools. The public school students saw improvements in their English skills, but the voucher kids’ results stayed flat. The voucher schools can’t necessarily blame low test scores on poverty, either. According to data from the state, today more than 60 percent of the voucher students in Indiana are white, and more than half of them have never even attended any public school, much less a failing one. Some of the fastest growth in voucher use has occurred in some of the state’s most affluent suburbs. The Center for Tax and Budget Accountability, a Chicago-based think tank, recently concluded that because white children’s participation in the voucher program dwarfed the next largest racial group by 44 points, the vouchers were effectively helping to resegregate public schools.”

 

This is what is in store for the nation in the Trump-Pence era.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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