Indiana governor promises more taxpayer-funded vouchers to unaccountable private schools


by Colleen Flaherty

Newly elected Indiana Gov. Mike Pence delivered his State of the State in Indianapolis Tuesday evening. While most of his education proposals were vague, Pence did put front and center a promise to his anti-public education supporters: expand the state’s school voucher program, draining money from underfunded public schools for private and religious schools that are not accountable to taxpayers and exempt from state and local education standards.

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Said Teresa Meredith, elementary school educator and vice president of the Indiana State Teachers Association:

We haven’t even waited for data to be collected on the current voucher program, and they’re already talking about expanding it. Vouchers are continuing to cripple our public education system by draining funds away from programs and from schools for those who need it the most.

Currently, Indiana provides anywhere from $2,500 to $7,500 per year to students who meet the income guidelines and who have spent at least one year in a public school. Pence wants to get rid of income guidelines for certain students, such as children of veterans and those with special needs, and do away with the public school attendance requirement altogether.

In 2012, 9,324 students received vouchers, up from 3,919 when the program began two years ago. There were 7,500 vouchers available in the program’s first year. That amount doubled this school year, and that cap disappears in 2013-14.

Teresa Meredith
         Teresa Meredith

Pence also proposed an increase in education funding, but, said Meredith, “It’s just a drop in the bucket.”

Pence’s budget proposal includes an increase of one percent per year for K-12 funding. However, it won’t cover the $300 million carved out of the education budget in the last two years. Even some state lawmakers in Pence’s own party, state House Republicans, want an increase in education funding.

Pence also intends to increase funding for the teacher and school evaluation program, which would allocate more money for high performing schools and reward teachers based only on the improvement of their students on a high-stakes test. Pence wants to spend an extra $64 million specifically for high performing schools.

“He wants that funding to go to the highest performing schools and what he considers the best teachers,” said Meredith. “Once again, the programs and the opportunities that need to be there for our most impoverished children and our most challenged schools, he’s not looking at ways to support those schools or those students in any way.”

Glenda Ritz
            Glenda Ritz

Meredith adds that in the past few years, many teachers have retired early or left the profession due to the added pressures of high stakes evaluation.

“Teachers are really feeling the stress. We’re hearing about teachers around the state that are on medication because they can’t handle the stress brought on by the evaluation model. We’re really hoping the current administration can bring some kind of common sense to the teacher evaluation discussion and make teachers feel less threatened from day one.”

Meredith was also disappointed that while Pence outlined his plans for education, he didn’t mention newly elected state Superintendent Glenda Ritz, former state Teacher of the Year and fierce advocate for public schools.

“He didn’t extend any olive branch to Ritz. I would love to have heard him say publicly, ‘Let’s start with our common ground and then continue to improve education in Indiana from there.’ He didn’t do it. I feel really let down as a citizen of the state.”

Still, Meredith feels hopeful that educators and students have such a strong public education advocate fighting for them.

“I believe Superintendent Ritz and her staff are already exhibiting tremendous openness to conversation. I’m encouraged by the attitude they have about the professionals who are in our schools everyday doing their jobs.”

Reader Comments

  1. When non-tax paying entities begin getting tax $$$, it is time to tax those institutions! God knows we need the $$$ to run the country.

  2. The voucher discussion should also include the subject of religion: should U.S. taxpayers be paying for religious education? If religious schools are included in the voucher system, then we are indeed paying for religious education of students. Are some religious schools going to be excluded, or will all religions be considered equal if their schools meet a minimum criteria? Will a Seventh Day Adventist and an Islamic, Jewish, Buddhist or Pagan school be equally considered with Catholic and Lutheran schools, as recipients of tax dollars? The actual curriculum is important to consider. Do we want U.S. tax dollars supporting any religious based beliefs (ex: the earth is 6,000 years old)? We need to consider the complex cause/effect web of voucher implementation, and attempt to look over a longer period of time than just one politician’s political lifecycle. What happens to a society in 50 years, 80 years, if “belief” rather than “critical thinking” is inculcated at government expense from pre-K on?

    1. Well since you mentioned them, I taught in Lutheran schools (LCMS version) for 24 years and left them because I needed a better retirement!

      The 20 years I spent in a Lutheran high school in NYC were interesting. New York state is required to give textbooks to ALL schools: public, private, and parochial. But the parochial schools cannot get money for technology (overheads, computers, etc.) from the state for fear — gasp — they might use it to teach (brainwash, indoctrinate) ::dum, dum, dum:: “religion”.

      What a joke! Any good religious teacher can use ANYTHING to teach religion — yep even that secular math, history, or English textbook.

      As for the separation of church and state — the concept there is there should not be an “official” state religion as seen in many European countries (such as Lutheran in Germany, Norway, Sweden.)

      Therefore, IF and that has to be a required IF, all religions including a school run by Atheists are equally allowed to accept vouchers, then it meets the test of the First Amendment as no one religion would be given precedence or additional favor over any other.

      As for curriculum — speaking for Lutheran schools — they have a penchant for following the prevailing state curriculum as a baseline and then seeking to teach beyond it so their students are over prepared and will excel upon entering the public system. Other schools — depends. Private schools mostly do the same. Catholic — especially Jesuit controlled — also seek to produce scholars (and great football players!) Others – it depends.

      Yes, there will be those that blatantly ignore or worse denigrate science and teach from a “flat earth” perspective. Yes, that could have detrimental consequences for many if one so taught rose to a position of power (::cough, cough:: a certain Southern states textbook committee!!! ::cough, cough::). Long term tho’ they are a losing minority — birth rates confirm this. While they may gone down fighting, their ship IS sinking.

      I fear we expend to much time and energy trying demonize private and parochial schools instead of studying the heck out of them to find what it is they do “so right” to get the results they get and them applying it to public schools.

      Rather than always fight them, model them and they beat them at their own game.

      And yes, that will require a more competitive attitude that focuses even more on results and a return to an education system much based on differentiated (tracked, leveled, non-mainstreamed — call it what you like) system that does treat students differently according to ability and need.

  3. This is a reply to Doug and retiredcoach at the bottom of the page: There have been many cultural changes in the USA that have led to complacency as well as a moral shift that affects the integrity of a populous, as well as motivation and work ethic, but I will attempt to confine this to the question you pose about vanishing financial solvency, that I believe is at the root of many of our problems in the USA today. My attempt to answer your closing question is based in the fact that there have been some fundamental changes in the USA over the past 30 years that have led to our national demise.
    Take a look back at the BOOM years of the USA; the late ‘50s through the 60s. We had marginal tax rates that eclipsed 90%. Nobody actually paid that rate, however, and to get a tax break, our wealthiest citizens INVESTED their fabulous wealth, pouring it back into the best game on the Street, namely, the USA (Bonds, R&D, USA Corporations, payrolls, NASA, Education Funds, Entrepreneurship, USA Parks, philanthropy, etc.) to generate economic growth. Since the 1980s, Reagan hypothesized, “Who knows better how to create wealth than the wealthy? Give ‘em a bread up front and watch ‘em go. Call it “supply side,” or “trickle down” economics. He reduced marginal rates from 71% to 28% and cut capital gains taxes to 20%.
    Record low marginal tax rates worked for a while, but not over the long haul, especially if cuts are coupled with spending increases. But, more to the point; a tax code that includes Corporate welfare (loopholes, exemptions, credits, write-offs, etc.), that when combined, exceeds $340 Billion/yr., enough to run a small nation, your available sources of revenue to run your government flows into the deep pockets of America Inc. with little left to run the nation.
    Then, in the ‘90s, “Free Trade Agreements,” lobbied incessantly for by our larger corporations’ BIG $$$ in our legislature, incentivized the offshoring of our magnificent manufacturing sector to sweatshops abroad to by-pass the relatively high wage USA worker, and garner larger profit margins for the same BIG $$$.. The 9 million jobs that have been offshored or sent south of the border and the 50,000 manufacturing plants that have been boarded up (Mid-west “Industrial Belt” becomes the “Rust Belt” in just 18 years) that used to employ middle class Americans to fuel the largest economy this world has ever seen, now employ an exploited workforce, while the USA worker has been kicked to the curb. In an era of low unemployment and high wages like the USA had during its BOOM years of economic growth, DEMAND increases and as disposable income and spending grows, so does the economy. As the economy grows, there’s a simultaneous upward spiral of government as well as investment revenue. As the money runs out (click on Natl. Debt by year) you will see an increasingly myopic finger pointing at the unemployed, elderly, poor and public domain as the culprits, while the true perpetrators of this Plutocratic trend escape scrutiny from a public that is continually distracted from this fact by divisive issues including but not limited to: gun rights, reproductive rights, religious rights, “parasitic” entitlements, a plethora of imagined personal freedom infringements, etc., delivered with practiced, shrill cries of outrage and panic delivered by a party that uses these tactics to give cover to BIG $$$, to which they are financially beholden.
    Referring again to the national debt figures, during the last half of the 20th Century (1950s-2000) debt began accelerating in the $Billions (a few years in the 1950s, there were actually surpluses). After the 60s it grew by the $Tens of Billions. But after 1980, the advent of supply side economics, it grew by $100s of Billions/yr. Then during the Clinton years, when he raised taxes, it slowed to the $10s of Billions again, during which time there were actually surpluses.

    But once the FTA’s were introduced (actually it took a few years after their introduction), deficits reached the $100s of Billions from then on. Here’s my point: The increases in debt from 2001, when China joined the WTO, reached over $500 Billion/yr. from then on out and have not diminished. During the 20th century, government spending grew, but revenue has been cut to record lows, in my opinion, in an ill-advised attempt to starve the beast.

    Google trade deficits: The USA has gone from steady trade surpluses before 1975 to trade deficits that have averaged at least $600 Billion/yr. over the last 10 years. This is because BIG $$$ pushed for unfair trade policies (Free Trade Agreements) that have pitted our high paid middle class workers with sweatshops offshore (China- $1.36/hr. avg. wage) to compete for jobs, as it allowed cheap goods to flood our shores at pennies on the dollar to soak the USA and fleece a declining middle class consumer market which has been forced to succumb to downward pressure on wages to compete for jobs in a “global economy.”
    To me, these trends explain a lot about our national plight, like the old phrase, “Follow the money.” As revenue dries up and we plunge deeper into debt, initiatives to solve our national problems will be further and further curtailed so that our Plutocrats can continues to post good numbers on Wall Street, even if it means further damage than has already been done to our financial house of cards.

    1. Thank you for that explanation.


      My question was not about money but about pedagogy.

      We got to the moon WITHOUT tons of money in classrooms, WITHOUT the latest greatest laptop/iPad/tablet in the hands of every student, WITHOUT smartboards, etlc.

      We got there with engineers trained in the paper, pencil, and slide rule era.

      WHAT happened that the greatest of our schools — schools that produced these engineers and the ones that built first the A-Bomb and then the H-Bomb, that designed arguably the best designed military aircraft ever, the B-52, that won two world wars, gave us television, radio, all manner of marvelous products, home designs, buildings, cars (like the original Vett) — can now barely turn out people literate enough to even work in a fast food joint?

      This change is NOT about money. Were did we as a nation loose the already present excellence of schools and instead settle for mediocrity where the lowest-common denominator became the standard down to which we teach?

    2. Doug,
      For an answer to that question, I think we need to identify and address the cultural malaise that has beset us. I perceive erosion in the area of morality, family stability, widening socio-economics, decreasing opportunities, and a de-emphasis on work ethic.
      But let’s not despair; our brightest minds did lead in the manufacture of the latest installments to the International Space Station, The Hubbell Telescope, the flawless landing of the rover Curiosity on Mars (sad that the flow of funding to NASA has shut down the shuttle program for now). We also continue to blaze the trail toward alternative energy, military technology, electronics, etc.
      In my school we have a lot of bright kids that take pride in their wit and intelligence, but there are also those that have maladapted to a less than ideal environment. The degree to which we make it our objective to reach these disaffected kids is in a way, a measure of our compassion. But a metaphor comes to mind, where we become like a rescue crew, wading into the raging river to pull victim after victim of the flood out of the swirling currents, never getting time to go upstream and address what’s causing them to fall in…
      In that regard, I think public schools are at a disadvantage, like trying to fight with one hand tied behind our back. Meanwhile, Governors like Pence and out Corbett wish to undermine public schools further by directing precious public resources to private schools in the name of “competition,” their cure-all for everything. Question: has competition within the Private Health Insurance Industry reduced the costs of health care, or reigned in the multimillion dollar salaries of the CEOs and their executive teams, or reduced the take of the hedge fund managers fees (2% in and 20% out on the $Billions they broker in the Wall Street casino)?

      1. Not sure the health insurance industry (fiasco) is the best comparison as the direct consumer, the patient, generally has little or no choice of insurance company, that being foisted upon them by their employer and further the insurance company is not the provider of the end service: medical care.

        rather, look to true direct service industries and not how fast a companies fortunes can rise or fall based upon direct customer satisfaction.

        Yes, it will foster competition, as we are already seeing in the rush to charter schools within the public sector.

        Anyone well versed and very familiar with the private/parochial sector will be able to detail the cut-throat competition among them.

        Yes, we need to get upstream to find what is pushing (for I doubt they are just falling) in to the raging tempest.

        I have my “suspicions” including emphasis on self-esteem over failure as a necessary step to learning, the emphasis on “college prep” which leaves those better suited to skilled trades and services at a severe disadvantage — we need more “shop” classes if you will, the emphasis that “all are equal and should be equal” which is a bunch of ….. (see Vonnegut’s “Harrison Bergeron” for an excellent riff on the consequences of destruction of individuality in the name of equality). We are not equal, nor should we force students to be, nor can we expect them to achieve the same by exactly the same time and in the same way. We espouse working with the whole child but then try to straightjacket them into one predetermined mold.

        I’m resistant to the “more money” mantra simply because of what was historically achieved with much less money, facilities, and technology.

  4. oh — and as for rewarding high performing teachers —

    where does that leave:
    Art teachers
    Music teachers
    Dance teachers
    Theatre teachers

    Can we really objectify the arts?

    Should we even try?

  5. What many seem to forget about “holding private/parochial schools accountable — measure them!!!”

    They already ARE.

    At high school level:
    AP scores
    ACT scores
    SAT scores
    College admissions (as in the elites — the 5 Iveys, the best of the state and private schools) — and even into what programs they are admitted (pre-med, pre-law being highly prized)
    Completion of college rates (our students are alumni of…….)

    Elementary schools (most do the K-8 method)
    Achievement test scores
    Admission into the elite high schools

    And for all of them:
    Parents word-of-mouth and voting with their feet. (oh this can kill a school in short order)

    These are far more valid measure than any end of course exam.

    And it’s interesting that these private/parochial schools insist on a far more well-rounded, Renaissance style education that fully embraces the arts as part of an excellent edcuation — the art which are so often but a red-headed stepchild of the neighbor next door frill in many public schools.

    Before you condemn private/parochial schools, go teach in them for a year or two.

    It might enlighten you as to just how demanding they can be — yes, even while they push their particular social/religious agenda (which even public schools push!).

    1. I can only extrapolate that the thumbs down are indication that many believe high-stakes standardized testing that strips out creativity, individuality, and reduces students to mere drones to be “filled” with “knowledge” is the only valid way to measure success in education.


      There ARE other far more valid measures.

      And I find it interesting that SAT, ACT, and AP scores would not be seen as valid measures of student accomplishment — at least that is what the thumbs down seem to indicate.

      “Everybody is a genius. But if you judge a fish by its ability to climb a tree, it will live its whole life believing that it is stupid.” ― Albert Einstein

      It would seem some believe we can only evaluate quality in one way.

      Further — and since when is teaching to the state curriculum (or Common Core) the ONLY way or the BEST way to teach.

      There is such a thing as “higher standards” and teaching BEYOND the baseline requirements.

  6. If only teachers with high performing test scores are going to be rewarded then let’s all try to get a job in magnet or honors schools where the highly motivated and supported students are. Who would want to work in a low socioeconomic school where I do. Last week I gave a very simple practice homework that took 10 minutes. Out of my 135 students only 37 turned the assignment in. They had two days to do it. I am not saying this to complain because I love my kids, but when I lived in fl and taught in a magnet school I never had more than 1 or 2 kids not do their work. I am working much harder at my current school but having more road blocks to achieve high test scores. It is njot so simple as saying better teachers equal better test scores. Better teachers are not always the ones with high test score!

    1. I absolutley agree with this. I struggled with this at one of Milwaukee’s largest high schools. Also, It’s one thing to give vouchers to charter schools which are really doing thier jobs, We need to focus on keeping the public schools alive with enough money to help students be disciplined and truly learn so they can read and write! This is all of our responsibility,but we need good leaders to do this. cA Milwaukee

  7. I agree that all funded schools should be measured the same. I also think that the funded private schools should provide for students who are English as a Second Language Learners & Special Education students.

    1. Our Intermediate and Middle Schools 5th – 8th grades has over 200 students with IEPs?GIEPs, whose needs must be addressed within our lessons. Teachers in our core subjects work their tails off to keep test scores proficient or above.

  8. Pence seems to ignore evidence that test scores are more dependent on zip code then on teacher quality. Test scores are just one flawed measure of student performance.
    It seems to me the drive for vouchers has everything to do with blind infatuation with privatization while also blind to poverty and injustice.

  9. This comment is a false red-herring- vouchers will be-“…draining money from underfunded public schools for private and religious schools that are not accountable to taxpayers and exempt from state and local education standards.”

    To allow vouchers is to simply allow COMPETITION! If a public school cannot raise its scores and standards,it needs competent leadership to do so! Schools are NOT underfunded! My wife and I have a total of 88 years teaching in public school, and have inside information that administrations are top-heavy and and schools are lazy and liberal in their efforts to educate the children! THERE IS NEVER A MANTRA-“LET’S DO WHAT’S BEST FOR THE CHILDREN!” Unions would demand otherwise!

    1. COMPETITION does not exist if there are no rules that allow for a score to be kept. In this competition, public schools and public school teachers are being evaluated based on test scores. Yet this program exempts private schools and parochial. Any school that accepts vouchers from a state government should be required to submit test scores using the same academic achievement tests that public schools must participate in. These test should be administered in the same intervals as they are in the Public schools. Private schools that accept vouchers from a student should further be required to make a multi-year commitment to the children they accept in their program. Data for private schools should then be analyzed comparing children of similar demographics to those in public schools. That information should be made public, so that parents can make an informed decision regarding their children’s education. That’s competition. I am Union and I agree: LET”S DO WHAT”S BEST FOR THE CHILDREN!

    2. How is sending students to a private school where there is no state curriculum or assessment good for our kids? What if a child has a disability? Are private schools going to even let them in? Will they be able to service them? I have knowledge of numerous private schools that have zero special education services. They don’t have too so don’t spend the time or money on it.
      Your comments about the lazy side of education seem a little over the top. There are cases of this in education but it is not as systemic as you make it seem. I believe that he tenure situation needs some adjustment so that “lazy” educators can be held accountable, but there are millions of hard working teachers that get a bad rap with comments like yours. Please remember us when you are complaining.

    3. Parents who even consider a voucher school are parents who are at least thinking about their child’s education. The parents that never even think of it, who don’t even care if their child arrives tardy day after day, or misses days to help out at home….. Those parents leave their children in the public schools. Therefore, voucher schools are inevitably skewed toward higher achievement. There can never be an even comparison between public schools and voucher schools.

      BTW – The mantra in my district is always about what is best for the students. I’m sorry that was not your experience.

  10. Having taught in BOTH the public (currently) and private/parochial (past) schools:

    1) just because they are not legally held accountable does not mean private/parochial schools do not hold themselves accountable. The very best do and often hold themselves accountable at an even higher level than legally required. It’s an extension of the “aim at earth and all you get it earth; aim at heaven and you get earth tossed in too” philosophy many use as a guiding principle. Don’t just teach to the test, teach beyond the test so it is just another annoyance to be endured. One parochial school I taught at was often censured by the state (NY and the progenitors of all high stakes testing: the Regents Exams) for grading the students too harshly and having grades overturned to be HIGHER than what we scored. Many public/private schools hold these same standards expressing disdain for the low standards of the public compared to their standards.

    2) Public schools are saddled with an unattainable mandate: to educate all children. Unlike private/parochial schools that can selectively admit and also easily “invite to not re-enroll”, public schools are supposed to engage every student regardless of ability, interest, or presence/lack of support systems — notably caring parents: a benefit private/parochial schools take as a given — and somehow miraculously turn out educated, productive citizens. Sisyphus had it easy by comparison.

    3) I grow weary of the lamentations about lack of funding. ALL schools, even private/parochial fight the budget battle. Unlike public schools which are guaranteed a baseline level of funding, private/parochial schools in many cases only get the funds the students themselves bring to the schools. If they don’t produce results, measured in terms of graduation rates and admission to top-line colleges, they parents vote with their feet, taking the children out to enroll them in a school that does give results. Study the cut-throat nature of private school competition in any major city to see just how hard core the schools must be in producing high-level results. Recently in NYC, most private schools have ditched the NYS Regents Exams as a measure of success: reason — too easy. The AP exams and IB program are seen as more challenging and truer measures of student accomplishment which is then verified by college admission results.

    There will NEVER be “enough” money — ’tis human nature to be greedy and always want more. But by very efficient use of what is had — which private/parochial schools must be masters of — the existing money can be made to have greater effect. Yes, we all want filet mignon, but hamburger can just as easily fill the bill and feed far more.

    I find it interesting that we went to the moon on the technology in large part created with slide rules, won two world wars with nary a computer or drone or satellite or….., that TV and radio were invented in a far less tech savvy age. How is it all that could be accomplished “then” and is so hard to accomplish “now”?

    The more fundamental question that needs addressing in all areas of education is what has changed for the worse that prevents us educating modern students to the levels of previous generations who won wars, went to the moon, gave us TV, radio, and many other modern wonders WITHOUT the need for the latest computer, the latest smartboard, thousands of dollars of technology, curriculum/reading/learning/etc. specialists but did with pen, pencil, paper, and good old fashioned learning and instruction?

  11. On the brighter side this eventually will undo the administrative waste and hurdles placed on our teachers and return control of their classrooms to them. When the disconnected Mandatory Program Enforcers are exposed as inadequate we’ll have happy teachers and educated students again.

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