The Indiana General Assembly has passed the 2021 budget bill, and once more, the Republican super-majority has done its best to line the pockets of religious schools with a large increase for unaccountable school vouchers.
This year, they have added money to the privatization piggy bank in the form of Educational Scholarship Accounts (ESAs), a plan fraught with fraud possibilities (and actualities) that have already been tried in various states across the country. ESAs allow parents to purchase unaccountable "educational services" from essentially anyone who says, "Here, buy my educational service" with no accountability for how the money is spent. Meanwhile, public schools must account for every penny of the public dollars they spend.
In order to pacify the Indiana State Teachers Association (ISTA) with the increase in vouchers, the legislature included a substantial pay increase for teachers. In their report, ISTA mentions the increase in vouchers without editorial comment but focuses on the pay issue. They also share the "positive" news that the ESAs, which are only for students with special needs, are funded separately from the rest of the education pot.
I'll make a prediction right now that within five years the ESAs will be available to anyone, and will drain money from the state's education budget just like any other voucher. This is just a "foot-in-the-door" plan like the original voucher plan was in 2011. For those who don't remember, to qualify for a voucher in 2011 a student had to have spent at least a year in a public school (no longer required), be low-income (about $45,000, as opposed to the new $145,000 for a family of four), and attend a "failing school."
[NOTE: "Failing school" equals a state-neglected school filled with low-income, mostly students of color, who score low on standardized tests.]
ISTA is happy over the teacher pay increases which are well-deserved. Indiana has had the slowest growth of teacher salaries in the country since 2002. The actual funding increase, however, merely brings the state budget for education up to the same level it was in 2012!
Indiana blogger Steve Hinnefeld writes...
A budget glass half empty
While Holcomb and Republican legislative leaders are praising the budget as “transformational” and suggesting it solves Indiana’s K-12 funding woes, the truth isn’t that rosy. A preliminary analysis by Ball State economist Michael Hicks finds the budget gets Indiana’s inflation-adjusted school spending more than halfway back to where it was a decade ago, but not nearly all the way.And the vouchers...
My main beef with the budget is that it radically expands Indiana’s already radical private school voucher program and creates a new, voucher-like K-12 education savings account program.
The positive revenue report means the voucher expansion will start this July rather than being phased in over two years. Families that make up to 300% of the limit for reduced-price school meals – about $145,000 for a family of four – will qualify for tuition vouchers worth about $5,500 per child or more.
Nearly all voucher schools are religious schools, and they are largely unregulated. They can turn away students on grounds of religion, disability, language, sexual orientation or gender identity. They can, and do, use tax dollars to teach religious dogma. They can teach that humans shared the earth with dinosaurs, enslaved people were happy, and the New Deal was a “half-way house to Communism.”
WHAT'S THE POINT?
The point is that...
- It doesn't matter that we're giving hundreds of millions of tax dollars a year to unaccountable schools run by churches and religious organizations.
- It doesn't matter that the earlier promise to "save poor kids from 'failing schools'" has morphed into providing entitlements to families that can already afford private schools.
- It doesn't matter that private schools don't provide a better education than public schools and voucher kids don't get a better education (see here, here, and here).
Charles Siler, a former lobbyist for the pro-voucher Goldwater Institute, talked to Diane Ravitch and Jennifer Berkshire. He, like Ravitch, used to believe in school choice until he saw that equitable schools and improved education weren't what the choice proponents were really after. Here he explains the goal of the Republican majorities in the various states (at around 23:40 in the video)...
Diane Ravitch in Conversation with Jennifer Berkshire and Charles Siler
The purpose isn't to improve education by expanding school choice and giving people more opportunities, it's to dismantle public schools.Privatization will continue to chip away at our public schools, year after year like it has since 2011. The privatization lobbyists have the money.
What they're trying to do is to implement a model of competition...telling the public schools that they need to race against charter schools and race against these private schools...then what you do is you weigh down the public schools with all these regulations and other burdens.
...then you complain about the administrative costs of all the things that you've burdened the public schools [with]...and talk about how inefficient they are...it's intended to cripple the public schools so that they can't compete.
...the most important thing to remember is that they are trying to destroy public schools and that is done by crippling them and making them ineffective as much as possible.
All we have are the voters.