Education, From The Capitol To The Classroom

Q&A: Are Vouchers A Success In Indiana?

Ben Skirvin

State Superintendent of Public Instruction Tony Bennett was key in promoting a series of bills designed to support the state's voucher program.

Nearly 4,000 Indiana students take part in the state’s voucher program.  This system is currently being challenged in court.  The Indiana State Teachers Association is claiming that vouchers are being used to fund religious schools and religious teaching.  State Superintendent of Public Instruction Tony Bennett has defended the program.

We continue our series on school vouchers in Indiana with an interview with Indiana’s top education leader.

Q: What are your thoughts on the Indiana’s voucher program?

If you study voucher legislation historically on a nationwide basis, given we only had an eight week uptake period and that uptake period did not fall within the traditional enrollment periods for schools, 4,000 students is incredibly impressive.  Across the nation people are impressed with the implementation and the interest in the voucher program in Indiana.  We have successfully given almost 4,000 students of low or very moderate means the ability to make choices they’ve never made before.

Q: In some cases, students using the voucher program are attending schools with comparable, often low test scores.  How do you respond to this?

Let me give you an analogy.  Lets talk about schools that are highly rated like schools in Carmel. Just because a school is highly rated doesn’t mean it meets the needs of all the students in that school.  There may have been aspects of going to those new schools that parents felt better met the needs of their child.  This entire process was not about bad schools or good schools.  This was about giving children and families the choices they need to pursue educational opportunities that meet their needs.  That’s how I always answered the question about moving to good schools or bad schools.  In my opinion this is taking down the geographic boundaries that have in many instances encapsulated students into specific school settings which may not meet their needs.

Q: How do respond to the accusation that many schools benefiting from the voucher program are religious?

Courts are dealing with that and I think that the trial court judge in the injunction rendered a very strong decision.  I’m no constitutional lawyer.  I believe that students and parents should be able to choose the school that meets their child’s needs.  The fact is, many people say many of these children are going to religious based schools.  In the state of Indiana, most of our private schools are religious based.  No pun intended, but I tend to be kind of agnostic about the type of schools that our children attend.  My concern is that those children are having their needs met in those schools.  That should be our number one filter as we discuss this issue.  Do our children attend schools that meet their needs and if not, we need to get them in those schools so their needs are met.

Read the first part of our series on vouchers here, where we interview ISTA President Nate Schnellenberger.



  • Douglas Storm

    What are geographic boundaries when it comes to schools? When it comes to cities? When it comes to neighborhoods?

    These are our communities–this geography is what BINDS us, or what SHOULD bind us.

    Our lack of concern for our neighbor; our heavy reliance on technology as a “table-for-one” mentality; and our refusal to address our human dignity when it comes to poverty and intolerance is SERVED by this kind of education “option.”

    This is freedom to choose not to care about your neighbor. This will become the freedom to for capital to “fly” out of your neighborhood and impoverish your communities.

    Divide and conquer, as usual, for market capitalists.

    • A Smart Kid

      School choice is the best thing to happen to public education in decades. Why is it that U.S. high schools are among the worst rated out of all of the developed countries? Yet our universities are the highest in the world? It is because of competitiveness, my friend. Universities have to be competitive in order to get students, and this voucher program will force all schools, public or private, to have the best teachers, the best classes, and the best scores. Once again the facts show that competitiveness and a free-market is the best option.

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