The Indiana Department of Education released a report Thursday which boasted what it called the successes of the state’s new private and parochial school voucher program.
This is the latest in a series of confrontations between the IDOE and Indiana State Teachers Association, including a high profile lawsuit from the state’s largest teachers union over the legality of school vouchers. We bring you the first in a two part series of interviews. Today, we speak with ISTA President Nate Schnellenberger about the reasons his group has decided to challenge the “Choice Scholarship” program in court.
Q: Can you describe your general thoughts on the voucher program?
They’ve tried to tout the success of the new voucher program, but the fact is less than 4,000 of the 7,500 vouchers available under the new law have been used. This tells me one of two things. Either they’ve done a really poor job of publicizing this program or there are not as many people displeased with public schools as some would like you to believe.
Q: Do you have any specific concerns about schools either receiving money or losing money as a result of the voucher program?
Virtually all of the students using vouchers are attending religious schools and most of the schools accepting vouchers are religious schools. This is why we are pursuing a lawsuit against this voucher program. The Indiana State Constitution states that tax money citizens are compelled to pay cannot be used to support the teaching of religion or to support religion.
We’ve been criticized because some people have said that we oppose school choice. This is not true. Indiana has complete school choice within all of our public schools. There really are no boundaries in terms of where students can attend.
And we don’t oppose religious schools. If parents choose to send their children to a religious school, then the taxpayers of Indiana should not be required to support that religious school. So we really have no opposition to any religious schools — only to the requirement tax dollars that have already been budgeted to support public schools be used to support that religious school. Given the limited resources available to our public schools today, there’s really no scientific research that any voucher program improves academic achievement.
Q: The Indiana Department of Education has said that this is the largest first year voucher program in history. How do you respond to this?
There’s no question about it. It is the largest of any state. We knew that because it is the most liberal voucher law in the United States. Our voucher law is open to more students in terms of income level, so it’s not surprising to me that we have the most number of students who are using it. It was designed in that manner.
Q: What are your current thoughts on the voucher programs?
This voucher program diverts much needed tax dollars from our the state’s constitutionally-guaranteed public schools and we feel that is a disservice to our more than one million students enrolled in our public schools.
Read an interview with State Superintendent of Public Instruction Tony Bennett in support of the voucher program.