I will be very interested to see how the school voucher plan being proposed in the Statehouse plays out over the next couple of weeks.
The bill, part of Gov. Mitch Daniels' education reform plan, will likely sail on through a Republican-dominated Statehouse, and would establish the nation's largest publicly-funded school voucher program.
With rumors persistent that Daniels is considering a presidential run in 2012, this is a doubly smart move on his part. Daniels has bucked the national trend by being both an effective and genuinely popular Republican governor, and he has a trace of libertarian in him, to boot. Not only are charter schools and voucher programs increasingly popular ideas, the move provides solid action to address dissatisfaction with the state's public school system.
The program, which would give thousands of Hoosier families some state aid to apply toward private school tuition, and the ability to choose a school
that might actually teach their kids something. The single biggest beneficiary would be the poorer families in the state, who could be eligible for vouchers equal to ninety percent of their district's per-student funding.
Of course, opponents say it will drain money from public schools and question how many options would be open for the state's neediest children. The president of the Indiana State Teachers Association calls it another attempt to "destroy public education in Indiana." No mention of dogs and cats sleeping together or mass hysteria, but stay tuned...it's still early.
First, it's not altogether a bad idea to consider cutting public education funding. Indianapolis receives $8,716 per student in state aid. The state average is $6,704. Regardless of how the state's public education machine thinks, for that much money per student, which is certainly comparable with private school tuition, the public schools should be returning private school-level educations for that expense. Besides, should this plan go through, there will logically be fewer students in public classrooms, so with fewer students, why keep the state spending average the same? Sorry if that seems simplistic.
Also important to consider is the availability. There will be no limit on the number of children who could get a voucher. The only limitation would be the capacity of the private schools, and their willingness to accept voucher students.
Therein lies the rub. Private schools will not be required to accept voucher students, provide transportation, and they would still be perfectly free to raise their tuition if they wish. As Scott Elliot points out in his Indianapolis Star article, some private schools may be tempted to increase tuition to take a cut of the voucher action. I do not doubt for a moment that some schools will do that, but I imagine the majority will simply be looking to see how they can expand to address a new potential influx of students.
This also brings up the image of the private schools. By accepting voucher students, the schools will be opening themselves up to being held to the same grading and accountability systems in place for public education. Unless it is one of those dubious "prep" schools that seem to do nothing other than provide a top-notch basketball program, I can't imagine the private schools would have a problem with that, as it would provide even more concrete proof of the superiority of a private school education.
What has not been determined, however, is whether or not there will be consequences for under-performing private schools, and that is key to public acceptance and the success of this program. If there are no or low penalties or enforcement, the end result will simply be a top shelf version of the problem that already exists.
While it may be only about 95% complete, this voucher plan is still 100% better than the less than zero that's been accomplished at this point.
He's been ducking the rumors about 2012, the smart money says a big-time success with this plan will push Daniels a lot closer to running for President. A lot closer than I think he already is.
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