The Herald Bulletin

March 27, 2013

Vouchers offer important school alternatives, supporters say

Opponents: Public money should stay with public schools

By Dani Palmer
The Herald Bulletin

ANDERSON, Ind. — Micah Mitchell’s son, Aaron, was “getting lost in the shuffle” when he attended school in the Frankton-Lapel Community School Corp.

In classes with as many as 25 students and his attention deficit disorder, Aaron was having trouble focusing, Mitchell said.

But now that he’s in a smaller classroom setting at Anderson Christian School, he’s “doing really well.” His teacher is better able to hold Aaron’s attention and the curriculum seems to be beyond that of other elementary schools, Mitchell said.

The family isn’t paying the full price tag, over $4,000 per year, though. They’re at Anderson Christian on a 50 percent voucher. “Without the voucher (system), we wouldn’t have been able to put him in there,” Mitchell said.  

On Tuesday, the Indiana Supreme Court unanimously upheld a 2011 law providing vouchers for low- and middle-income families, clearing the way for an expansion being debated in the Indiana Statehouse. To date, over 9,000 students are on the voucher, or school choice scholarship, system statewide.

With the nation’s broadest school voucher program, Indiana’s ruling could set a precedent as other states look to build or expand programs.

While parents like Mitchell and private school officials are glad to see the program upheld, public school officials aren’t as thrilled by the news.

Anderson Community Schools Superintendent Felix Chow said there should instead be a larger focus on fixing what already exists in the public sector.

For example, if officers at a police station aren’t doing a good job or are corrupt, the local government and public don’t just go out and create another station, he said, they fix the problem.

“The question has been, fundamentally, do we use public money for private schools,” he said.

When a student leaves a public school for a private school on a voucher, the state money, or Average Daily Membership (ADM), the school district receives per student — about $6,200 in ACS’ case — goes with them.

It’s money, Frankton-Lapel Superintendent Bobby Fields said, that a struggling school district may be able to use to better assist struggling students.

“I’m not very happy about public dollars going to fund private education,” he said.

Especially since, he added, private schools don’t always have to play by the same rules.

While Frankton-Lapel is a district with high ISTEP scores and a good grade from the Indiana Department of Education, Fields said any loss of funds impacts programs schools can offer, giving them “less money to educate kids” with.

Chow also brought up the argument of the separation of church and state, since the majority of vouchers go to religion-affiliated institutions.

Tom Snell, administrator at Anderson Christian School, said it’s the families who are making the decision to switch schools, not the state.

For families who couldn’t afford a private school education before, he said, the vouchers offer just that.

“Those with the means can already make choices,” he said. “Those with a limited income, it gives them the same chance.”

Snell added that vouchers can help those not thriving in the public school system by providing quality alternatives.

Mitchell said many leave school districts because of “lackluster performances.”

He noted that a family could just as easily leave a school corporation for a charter school as it could a private one. While not a part of a school district, charter schools are still public schools that are tuition free.

“The main thing is being able to get them (the children) the best education possible,” he said.

The voucher expansion bill is awaiting action in the state Senate.

Find Dani Palmer on Facebook and @DaniPalmer_THB on Twitter, or call 640-4847.