Phil Downs, Superintendent of the Southwest Allen County Schools, has a column in the Fort Wayne Journal Gazette that very patiently works through some of the funding issues with the voucher system in Indiana. Generally, he says that overall state funding of education hasn’t kept up with inflation and, in addition, vouchers have an impact on your school even if none of the kids in your school district use a voucher to go to private school.
It is conventional wisdom that the voucher program only affects big cities. While voucher usage is higher in big cities, the financial effect is felt in every school district because the voucher dollars come out of Tuition Support, in effect reducing the dollars supporting students in all public schools.
Recall that vouchers were initially sold as a way for public school kids to get out of struggling schools. From that premise, it has grown to be one of the most expansive voucher programs in the nation. Now we have a system where it’s not necessary for a kid to have ever attended public school and it’s not necessary for the school to be struggling for the kid’s parents to divert money from the public school. (Downs says that, of approximately 35,500 voucher students, only 274 were used to leave an F-rated school). Now, we see it’s not even necessary for kids in your district to flee to voucher schools in order for your district to suffer from the voucher program. He suggests that Peru Community Schools had no vouchers used within its system and, even so, the state’s voucher program cost Peru $321,000 in funding. This reduced funding does not, by the way, result in a better education for the voucher kids.
It’s no secret that I’m critical of the money-follows-the-child philosophy on which the voucher system is premised. People with no children pay into this system. We fund education to build our communities. We do this, in part of course, by educating the individual students. But our schools are also part of the fabric of our cities, towns, and counties. They help tie us together and make us a community rather than a mere collection of individuals.