Sunday, August 28, 2011

Thousands of Students Take Advantage of Voucher Program, Mostly Go to Catholic Schools

Indianapolis Business Journal, among many other sources, is reporting that some 3,200 students have taken advantage of Indiana's new school voucher program. More of those students are going to Catholic schools than to any other destination.

The move takes place the first school season after Indiana's legislature passed bold new school voucher laws that make some of the most aggressive changes in the nation. Supporters say the plan allows parents to pick the best education for their children, despite their personal economic situation. Opponents complain that the vouchers remove money from the public school system and may violate the separation of church and state.

With so many vouchers heading the way of parochial schools, those complaints about the church and state issues would appear to have some validity. Supporters, though, say it has little to do with the parochial nature of the mostly Catholic schools. They argue that it is because most parochial schools are better established and have standards more in line with what parents expect than other private schools do.

The argument of church vs state does not always add up. While it may be a valid argument, it feels like most of those using it do so to prevent money from leaving their beloved public schools, rather than to prevent some injection of religion into our government spending. If it was truly about separation of church and state, then the voucher opponents should be strong supporters of increasing the size of the charter school system. To the contrary, though, you find opponents of both charters and vouchers to be mostly the same people.

This first wave of students heading to private schools is bound to be only a small portion of the number of vouchers we see used in the coming years. As parents become more aware of the program's existence and how to use it, I fully expect this number to jump up greatly.

The real test will be the program's performance, of course. Watching same-student test results over the next few years is going to be very telling about how much difference a school can make.  Is it the child? How the child is raised? The neighborhood? The school? I suspect we will find all are factors, but for the first time we will have some reliable statistics to back either side of the argument with.

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