Vouchers: A Lesson from Indiana

As Governor Bill Lee’s voucher legislation begins the legislative process this week with a hearing in a House Education subcommittee, this information from Indiana offers a word of caution. The voucher program in Indiana expanded rapidly and now results in a $154 million decrease in state funds available for public schools.

Here’s more:


Executive Summary
Growth in Indiana’s budget for public school personnel has not kept up with growth in its general fund or even inflation. Specifically, the current budget for public school personnel is almost $300M behind the 2009-10 budget when inflation is taken into account.


Vouchers are also funded from the budget for public school personnel. In 2018-2019, over $150M of this budget was utilized to fund Vouchers — with very little accountability.


The girls and boys attending Indiana’s public schools are currently educated utilizing a budget that is lagging by $450M.


Indiana’s General Fund (i.e., monies legislators control)


The Consumer Price Index (inflation rate) has grown by 16.71%
The Indiana General Fund has grown by 20.96%
K-12 Tuition Support Budget has grown by only 12.12%
Tuition Support funds nearly all personnel working in public schools
Considering inflation, but momentarily ignoring the impact of Vouchers, the Tuition Support Budget is $295,031,840 behind 2010 funding for the current school year


How Vouchers Work


Depending on family income, a qualifying child can receive a Voucher worth up to 90% of their local public school’s per student funding
Nearly 60% of voucher recipients have never attended a public school, but are now an additional cost taken from the Tuition Support Budget
Of the remaining 40%, the majority attended public schools for only one year before the Voucher program, but not the same year
The average public school student receives a little less than $6000, the average Voucher student receives $4258
The Voucher money is not taken from the local school, it is taken out of the Tuition Support Budget, (there is not a simple transfer of funds between the two schools) thereby decreasing the dollars for all public schools


Number of students’ educations funded by the tuition support budget


Public school enrollment during 2009-2019 is volatile, ranging from an increase of 3523 students in 2017-18 to a decrease of 4877 students in 2011-12
From 2010 to 2017, the US Census Bureau projects Indiana has lost 20,806 school-aged children. In that same period of time Indiana’s public and charter schools’ enrollment has only dropped by 6,158 from 1,036,839 students to 1,030,681 students.
There were 36,328 voucher requests in 2018-19
The 36,328 vouchers in 2018-19 result in a 3.41% increase in students to be funded this year


Impact on the amount of money allocated per student by Indiana


The Voucher Program decreases funding for all public school students
In 2009-10, the Tuition Support Budget allocation divided by enrolled public school students was $6,192
In 2018-19, the Tuition Support Budget allocation divided by only the enrolled public school students would be $6998, which is a 13% increase from 2009-10. However, the addition of Voucher students cut the average to $6,826 – only a 10.25% increase while the rate of inflation was 16.71%
This results in approximately $154 million taxpayer dollars spent to fund vouchers that could have been utilized for the benefit of girls and boys attending public school


Fiduciary Oversight


There is no fiduciary oversight by the state of the Voucher money
There are no requirements that keep Voucher taxpayer dollars from being used to enable the receiving organization to redirect its existing money for non-education purposes

Not only are vouchers costing Indiana taxpayers a lot of money, they simply aren’t getting results for kids.

Tennessee lawmakers would be wise to look at the impact of vouchers in other states. They’ll see a very expensive program that doesn’t get results.

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TEA Talks Vouchers, Charters

The Tennessee Education Association is raising concerns about Gov. Bill Lee’s school privatization agenda. More from a recent article posted on the TEA website:

In his State of the State address, Gov. Bill Lee announced his intent to allocate more than one-fifth of his K-12 education budget to advance privatization in Tennessee. His proposed budget includes more than $25 million for education savings accounts and $12 million for a charter school building slush fund.

“TEA has serious concerns about the governor’s plan to fund a program that is essentially private school vouchers with even less accountability that are more susceptible to fraud and abuse,” said TEA President Beth Brown. “At a time when classrooms lack needed resources and teachers are digging into their own pockets to buy classroom supplies, it is discouraging to see funding going to something proven to harm student achievement in other states.”

The increase in the building fund for private charter operators is partnered with a proposal to make it easier for new charter schools to be approved. While details on this are still not final, TEA strongly opposes any charter legislation that limits the authority of the locally elected school board to be the final voice on new charter school applications.

“Charter schools need to be a local decision, because local taxpayers bear a majority of the costs,” Brown said. “Also, local boards of education better understand the needs of their district and are better equipped to make the right decision for the students they serve.”

Both charter schools and any form of private school vouchers have proven to destabilize public school budgets and negatively impact existing classrooms. These privatization schemes also have a track record of harming student achievement.

“We have seen in other states where students in voucher programs and unaccountable charter schools are not keeping up with their peers in traditional public schools,” Brown said. “There are many proven ways to improve public education for all schools; unfortunately, the governor is choosing to invest significant resources in two dangerous paths.”

The more than $35 million currently slated for education savings accounts and rapid charter expansion would be better used in ways proven to increase student performance, like reducing class sizes and updating text books and classroom technology. 

“As a rural educator, I understand the assumption that these risks will only impact metro areas, but that is simply untrue,” said Brown. “Educators and public education advocates from every corner of the state need to stand together to defeat every single attempt to privatize education. If passed, these proposals would erode the foundation of all public schools.”

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Camper vs. Vouchers

House Democratic Leader Karen Camper of Memphis is taking on Governor Bill Lee’s proposed voucher program, which he is calling an “education savings account.”

The Daily Memphian has more:


Camper castigated the governor’s education savings account plan, saying voucher programs in other states resulted in poorer performance by students.
“We must continue to fight against this attack on our public school system,” Camper said in response to Lee’s speech, adding she is “saddened” by governor’s effort to take money from public school programs.

More on Lee’s plan:


Simultaneously, he is asking the Legislature for $25.4 million for education savings accounts and $12 million for a charter schools investment program, doubling the amount of money for charters and setting new rules for access to public facilities while establishing an independent authority to approve charter schools. Formerly known as vouchers, ESAs would provide public money, $7,300 to eligible students, to attend private schools or other alternatives, possibly home schools.

That Lee is advancing an agenda to dismantle public schools should come as no surprise as he has consistently shown his support for voucher programs.

The question for this legislative session is: Will rural legislators join with urban representatives to stop vouchers, or will Bill Lee prevail and begin the privatization of Tennessee’s public schools?

For more on education politics and policy in Tennessee, follow @TNEdReport

Voucher Resistance Grows

School Boards in Murfreesboro and Rutherford County both recently indicated opposition to using public money to fund private schools, the Daily News Journal reports.

Lawmakers should oppose state money being used for private education, says a resolution approved Thursday by Rutherford County school officials.

The seven Board of Education members also signed the document in opposition to any state legislation allowing vouchers or education savings accounts for private education. The elected school officials represent a district serving 46,772 students from prekindergarten through 12th grade.

Murfreesboro City School Board members also will be signing the resolution to oppose vouchers and education savings accounts for private schools, Chairman Butch Campbell said Friday.

“I think it’s a continued effort to let our legislators know the opposition that we have for school vouchers,” Campbell said.

The seven-member City School board serves a prekindergarten- through sixth-grade district with 8,989 students.

Despite opposition from the city and county school districts she represents, state Senator Dawn White says she remains a supporter of using public money for private schools:

State Sen. Dawn White, R-Murfreesboro, however, said she backs any potential legislation similar to a law passed a few years ago permitting education savings accounts for special education students.

White’s support for vouchers not only runs counter to the school systems she represents, it also ignores significant evidence that vouchers simply don’t work:

Voucher studies of statewide programs in Ohio, Louisiana, and Indiana all suggest that not only do vouchers not improve student achievement, they in fact cause student performance to decline.

Stay tuned to see if a voucher plan — in whatever disguise — moves forward this legislative session.

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Voucher Fraud

While there is clear evidence suggesting vouchers don’t improve academic outcomes for students, a new concern is getting the attention of Tennessee lawmakers: Fraud.

The Daily Memphian has more:

Reports from across the nation show situations in which private-school officials and parents spent voucher money for items unrelated to education. Cards were used at beauty supply stores, sporting good shops and for computer tech support, in addition to trying to withdraw cash, which was not allowed.

The Arizona Republic found many parents there put voucher funds into college-savings accounts then sent their children to public schools, among other fraudulent activity, all amid lax oversight. The Phoenix newspaper also reported the state investigated one case in which voucher funds were allegedly used to pay for an abortion after it adopted an Empowerment Scholarship Account program in 2011.

The Wisconsin State Journal reported in 2014 the state paid $139 million over 10 years to schools it wound up removing from its voucher program for not following Wisconsin’s financial reporting rules and other guidelines.

It’s not clear if voucher legislation will move forward this session, though Governor Bill Lee has consistently supported using public money to fund private schools.

 

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A Voucher By Any Other Name

Is still bad for Tennessee students and a raw deal for Tennessee taxpayers.

The Tennessee Education Association has some analysis:

It is clear that privatizers are favoring Education Savings Accounts as a new means to try to change the conversation after five years of stinging defeats when peddling more traditional voucher legislation.  While ESAs are referred to by some as “vouchers light,” nothing could be further from the truth.

ESAs are vouchers on steroids, as recipients are sent money directly rather than applying it toward the cost of private school tuition.  As such, parents can then spend the funds however they like, even if that means keeping their children home and not attending school at all.

This super voucher has been used in other states with disastrous results.  Sending funds directly to parents has invited widespread fraud and abuse of voucher funds.

“The fact is, we have truant officers for a reason,” says TEA chief lobbyist Jim Wrye.  “The state will be providing a monetary incentive for the misuse of funds and children will suffer as a result.”

Stay tuned as the legislative session develops and vouchers in some form emerge at the General Assembly.

For more on education politics and policy in Tennessee, follow @TNEdReport


 

Houston County Commission Takes Stand for Public Schools

The Houston County Commission joined the growing list of opponents to a school voucher program recently.

The Clarksville Leaf-Chronicle has more:

The Houston County Commission has approved a resolution opposing any state measure that would take funds from public schools for use at private schools.

Twelve out of 13 commissioners, with one abstaining, voted on Jan. 28 for a resolution affirming support for public education and educators to be sent to Gov. Bill Lee, members of the Tennessee Legislature and the Commissioner of Education.

Legislation was filed by Rep. Jay Reedy, R-Erin, in early January to create a voucher program. Since then, a number of school boards have passed similar resolutions in opposition to such a program.

Local school boards and county commissions are expressing their position on vouchers as Governor Bill Lee has indicated he intends to pursue voucher legislation.

The bottom line: Vouchers don’t work.

Voucher studies of statewide programs in Ohio, Louisiana, and Indiana all suggest that not only do vouchers not improve student achievement, they in fact cause student performance to decline.

Some state policymakers (State Rep. Bill Dunn, State Senator Brian Kelsey, Governor Bill Haslam) are asking taxpayers to invest in a voucher scheme. These advocates suggest that a voucher program can provide a path to better outcomes for students. However, the results of statewide programs in three different studies indicate just the opposite: Vouchers offer a path to dismal achievement.

Tennessee lawmakers should take a look at the evidence. Vouchers just don’t work. In fact, they harm the very students voucher advocates claim to want to help.

Stay tuned to see if voucher legislation advances and how legislators respond to the local elected officials strongly opposing the use of public money to fund private schools.

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Vouchers Will Hurt Tennessee Students

Rev. David Kidd of Nashville, writing on behalf of Pastors for Tennessee Children, outlines the harms of school vouchers.

Kidd notes:

Although urban legislators have been divided on the question of private school vouchers, rural legislators have voted them down, realizing that vouchers offer no benefit to rural districts, but instead endanger their already fragile budgets.

Indiana’s voucher program, for example, has drawn rural students into religious schools to the detriment of small, vulnerable districts.  Only 15 children in Richland-Bean Blossom attendance district used vouchers in the 2013-2014 school year, soon after Indiana passed voucher legislation in 2011.

By 2016-2017 that number had increased to 41. Result? $200,000 less in revenue for Richland-Bean Blossom, sparking talk of closing schools.

He also outlines the academic harm caused by vouchers:

To make matters worse, vouchers often fail to improve outcomes for the students. Rigorous studies in three different states, Louisiana, Indiana and Ohio, (as well as the District of Columbia, the only federally funded voucher program), have shown that students who use vouchers to attend private schools fare worse academically than their closely matched peers attending public schools.

Kidd points out what the evidence shows: Vouchers are problematic for rural communities financially and end up leaving the kids they purport to help behind.

Our legislature should heed his warning.

For more on education politics and policy in Tennessee, follow @TNEdReport


 

 

New Name, Same Game

The newly-established Pastors for Tennessee Children is already on the scene pointing out the dangers of the latest voucher scheme known as Education Savings Accounts.

Here’s their take on the latest threat to public schools with some explanatory material from the Network for Public Education:

Vouchers have proven to be unpopular in Tennessee, and after years of failed attempts to expand vouchers here, some lawmakers are considering “Education Savings Accounts” (ESAs) as an alternative. But make no mistake, vouchers and “Education Savings Accounts” are one and the same.

Will “Education Savings Accounts” lead to better results for Tennessee children and families? No.

Education Savings Accounts are not truly savings accounts. They “are another voucher-like scheme that redirects public money for educating all children to private, unaccountable education businesses, homeschoolers, and religious institutions. Privatization advocates created these programs because school vouchers are unpopular and because these programs are a way around prohibitions against using public dollars for religious schools. But just like vouchers, ESA’s bleed public schools of essential funds and do little to improve education options for families.”

The Pastors believe in God’s provision for ALL Tennessee children- not just the chosen few. We believe that our shared public tax dollars must be used is ways that align with public accountability so that all Tennessee children may prosper. We believe in the separation of church and state, and we oppose government oversight of religious schools.

The Pastors stand together in support of public education so that we may lift up the children of our state. Stand with us!

 

More from the Network for Public Education:

“Education Savings Accounts” (ESAs) are another voucher-like scheme that redirects public money for educating all children to private, unaccountable education businesses, homeschoolers, and religious institutions. Privatization advocates created these programs because school vouchers are unpopular and because these programs are a way around prohibitions against using public dollars for religious schools. But just like vouchers, ESA’s bleed public schools of essential funds and do little to improve education options for families.

MORE>

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Wilson County School Board Opposes Vouchers

The Wilson County School Board unanimously passed a resolution opposing the creation of a voucher program in the state ahead of this year’s legislative session. Wilson County joins Knox County in speaking out about the dangers of a voucher scheme.

The move comes as Bill Lee is on the verge of taking over as Governor. Lee is strong proponent of using public money to fund unaccountable private schools.

Here’s more from the Lebanon Democrat:

The Constitution of the state of Tennessee requires that the Tennessee General Assembly “provide for the maintenance, support and eligibility standards of a system of free public schools,” and the state has established nationally recognized standards and measures for accountability in public education, according to the resolution

“Vouchers eliminate accountability, by channeling taxes to private schools without the same academic or testing requirements, public budgets or reports on student achievement, open meetings and records law adherence, public accountability requirements in major federal laws, including special education laws,” Wright said. “Vouchers have not been proven effective at improving student achievement or closing the achievement gap, and vouchers leave students behind, including those with the greatest needs, because vouchers channel tax dollars into private schools that are not required to accept all students, nor offer the special services they may need.”

For more on education politics and policy in Tennessee, follow @TNEdReport