In the News: How Vouchers Transformed Indiana

Writing for Chalkbeat, Dylan Peers McCoy describes how one of the nation’s largest school voucher programs has changed the private schools that participate, leading them to focus more intensely on student test scores.

Resulting in the direction of about $146 million in public funding towards private schools last year, the Indiana Choice Scholarship Program has been in operation for about five years to date. School choice supporters are split over the program’s strict accountability provisions, however, which some say represent over-regulation by the state but which others claim are on par with the expectations for traditional public and charter schools.

Central Christian’s experience reflects a defining feature of Indiana’s school voucher program: Private schools can live or die by test scores the way that public schools often do, in an arrangement that divides school-choice advocates.

Participating schools that are deemed underperforming by the state can lose access to vouchers, a feature of program design that has altered the ways in which some private schools operate, writes McCoy.

The unusual reality in Indiana before vouchers, with many private school students already taking state tests, allowed lawmakers to easily decide the crucial question of what to do about testing in private schools. But nationally, it’s a question that has ignited vigorous debate among voucher advocates and private school leaders.

Writing in EdNext recently, the Thomas B Fordham Institute’s Michael Petrilli offers a useful overview of the accountability provisions in modern school voucher programs. Speaking about early voucher programs in Milwaukee and Cleveland, Petrilli explains,

Participating students were not generally required to take exams—certainly not state exams—and even if they were, the results were not released by schools in ways that would inform parental choices or lead to administrative actions for chronically low performing schools. And, to be fair, that’s still the case for some voucher and tax credit scholarship programs, where test-based accountability requirements remain light to nonexistent.

But what some voucher-doubters might not know is that the newest and biggest voucher programs—those in Louisiana and Indiana—now have significant accountability provisions that are arguably even stronger than those found in many state charter programs.

—Education Next

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