ICYMI: Voucher accountability getting awkward for IN GOP

INDIANAPOLIS – Indiana’s controversial $500 million private school voucher program is pitting Indiana Republicans against one another as questions about the program’s accountability mount. Republican factions in the Indiana House, Senate and Department of Education have taken up divergent positions on the future of the voucher program.

Republican Superintendent of Public Instruction Jennifer McCormick has been sharply critical of the program, saying: “We [Hoosier taxpayers] are spending $146 million [annually] on a program and not really reviewing it. That is irresponsible.”

Republicans in the state Senate bowing to years of concerted pressure from Democrats and public education advocates, included the amount allocated for the state’s controversial voucher program separate from taxpayer dollars directed to public schools in their budget. The move was viewed as a minor, but positive step toward more transparency for the program. House Republicans had other ideas, though. During closed-door budget negotiations, the separate voucher line-item was eliminated, and funding for vouchers once again comes directly from public school funding.

Republicans in the State House of Representatives have zero interest in shining more light on the performance of voucher schools receiving Hoosier taxpayer dollars. House Republicans’ most prolific privatization cheerleader, Rep. Bob Behning, has questioned the need for any voucher school accountability at all.

The Indianapolis Star exposed a voucher school receiving state funds that failed to pay its teachers and lacked heat and hot water. Responding to that story, Behning defended spending taxpayer dollars with no oversight: “I look at voucher schools, when it comes to financial issues, in a very similar way that I think the state should look at any vendor we do business with. If we receive services, we should give them a payment. How they handle that payment, as long as they’re not doing something illegal, is not in the state’s jurisdiction.”

This all taking place as research is accumulating that suggests students attending voucher schools are not seeing academic benefits. A study highlighted by the New York Times showed students participating in Indiana’s voucher program saw no gains in reading performance and lost ground in mathematics achievement.

And this while a river of campaign cash continues to flow from education privatization advocates to Hoosier Republicans.

This is the voucher minefield Governor Eric Holcomb is tasked with navigating. Growing exponentially and bleeding public funding that would otherwise benefit the vast majority of Hoosier students.

Indiana Democratic Party Chairman John Zody issued the following statement on Indiana’s controversial voucher program.

“Fueled by outside interests, the voucher program has successfully tapped into a well of taxpayer dollars, operating with little oversight. Pressure is mounting to shine more light on how Hoosiers’ hard-earned dollars are being spent and some in the Indiana Republican Party are feeling the heat. I agree with Superintendent McCormick, the Republican-led Legislature’s failure to provide proper oversight of the state’s voucher program is irresponsible. It’s an insult to Hoosier taxpayers and it sends a signal that Republicans put little effort into being good stewards of taxpayer dollars.”