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.