This month, champions of the “limited” private school voucher system showed their true colors.
Two years ago, when the voucher system was first proposed, the proponents pledged vouchers would be available only to those students who had first attended a public school and found it didn’t adequately meet their needs. They also vowed vouchers would only be awarded to low-income students who couldn’t afford another choice and that the number of vouchers would be capped.
This month, those promises were forgotten and the state’s voucher program was expanded dramatically. Senate Republicans refused to consider changes to the bill, including a proposal to first study the impact of such an expansion before moving forward.
Students no longer have to first attend a public school. Eligibility is extended to any student if there is even one failing school present in their entire school corporation and to any student with a sibling already participating in the program. Finally, the cap on the number of vouchers has been permanently removed, and now those earning up to 200 percent of the federal poverty level are eligible.
Consequently, if this bill (now before a conference committee) passes as is, there is no telling how many vouchers would be distributed. What is known is who will be most gravely impacted – students attending public schools.
Today, just over 9,000 students use vouchers. But consider if just 5 percent of the state’s total school population opted to receive a voucher. That’s 50,000 additional students. To pay for those vouchers, $210 million of funding would be diverted from Indiana’s public schools.
As it’s structured, the funding for Indiana schools is a limited pot of money. Every dollar spent to fund vouchers is a dollar less for the state’s public schools. How can public schools be expected to hire and fairly compensate high quality teachers let alone pay their bills with such fiscal uncertainly?
The more than one million Hoosier children attending public school deserve better. They deserve a commitment from lawmakers to transparently administer the state’s school funding and ensure every student has access to a high quality education.