Superintendents disappointed in state’s voucher system
After a successful first week of classes at the three Montgomery County school corporations, superintendents still found disappointment with the publication of a recent report on the Indiana voucher program.
A record $53 million of tax dollars was used to finance private and religious school tuition in the 2015-16 school year. The cost of the program was detailed in the Choice Scholarship Annual Report released by the Office of School Finance of the Indiana Department of Education in July.
Local superintendents see public schools being shorted funding in an effort to finance public schools. Montgomery County tax dollars continue to be a part of the money sent to the private and religious schools even though there are none of those types of schools in the county.
When state legislators set up the school voucher system, they did it under the pretense that it would help low-income families send their children to private schools. Now it appears, according to the report, that is not happening, but the cost of the voucher program continues to rise.
South Montgomery School Corporation Superintendent Dr. Shawn Greiner said the playing field is not equal between those who can afford private schools compared to those who cannot.
“I do not support spending public tax dollars on private school vouchers, most particularly in instances where private schools’ tuition charges are more than the voucher itself,” Greiner said “In these situations, private schools are creating a situation where those families with means have an advantage over those without. Public education is free, regardless of a child’s family circumstances. When public money supports private education rather than the public education system, this can and often does hurt low-income families by undermining the public schools that those families rely on.”
Republican legislators expanded the voucher system in 2013 when they changed eligibility rules which enabled private school students, who were already attending the private schools, to obtain a voucher. Adding the additional students caused the fiscal cost to Indiana to increase dramatically.
In 2011 through 2013, the state actually saved a total of $9.1 million because students were leaving public schools to attend private schools. Not having to finance the students who chose a private school from their public school saved the state money.
However, when the state legislators opened the vouchers to existing private school students, the cost to Indiana through vouchers ballooned to $53.2 million in the 2015-16 school year. In fact, $53 million is more money than what the state paid for summer school ($18 million), preschool ($10 million), technology ($3 million), English language learners ($10 million) and Gifted and Talented programs ($12 million) all added together.
Crawfordsville Superintendent Scott Bowling said the increase in state education funding is a serious problem to all of the state’s public schools and has caused an accountability problem in the use of tax dollars since private schools are not as accountable to the state as public schools are.
“Public education is the foundation of what has made this country great,” Bowling said. “Indiana’s voucher program hurts that foundation by creating hundreds of individual school districts that are not accountable to the public and not accessible to everyone.”
Public school advocate Vic Smith explained the total cost of the voucher program since its inception in the 2013-14 school year is $131.5 million. He sees that money as funds taken away from public schools.