School Choice. What is it?

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We have been reading a lot about the state of education in this country.  From Common Core curriculum to school vouchers.  Muncie Community Schools is seeing a complete change over from closing schools, to bus waivers.   A few days ago, the local newspaper published an “Our View: Voucher system creating two education classes“.  In all honesty, I very seldom read the paper’s “Our View” yet this title sparked my interest.

I like to feel the pulse of what local citizens think about a particular subject.  Although , very seldom surprised by the comments,  read with interest their obvious dislike for any change in the education system outside of the “how it’s always been run”.  They all seem to be big on “choice”, only it must be their choice, not your choice.   Most did not favor the parent’s right to choose and definitely against any tax dollars going to “private” schools.  Never mind we have been financing the 21st Century Scholars, PELL grants, GI Bill and the like, for decades.

Perhaps their argument stems from ignorance, or spite or perhaps the fact that nobody has taken the time to improve or change the make-up of Indiana’s education system.  In addition, it was introduced while the majority is chiefly Republican.  That alone is enough to make if bad  in Delaware County.  So much so, we would sacrifice the education of our children in favor of another political football.

It’s no secret that I favor Indiana’s School Voucher Program for various reason.  The program is in its third year of implementation and still in the exploration stage.  We won’t know the outcome for a few years, but already some are hoping it will fail or believe it has failed.   Muncie Community Schools has blamed charter schools and the voucher system for their decrease in enrollment and loss of funds.  Their own enrollment data has shown a steady decrease for over 20 years, long before the voucher system and possibly longer than charter schools.  Certainly funds decrease when students leave the district, so I don’t really understand why this is a hard concept to understand.

Imagine, if you will, your family income qualifies you for free or reduced lunch.  You own a modest home, and you pay property taxes .  Your neighborhood elementary school has just received the failing grade of F .  You know your children are bright and you are worried about their educational opportunities.

What are you going to do?

This when the voucher program really shows promise and gives a parent or family the incentive to seek out a different institution.  Finally a program that really does benefit low to middle-income families.  No better gift can we give the children and ourselves than a fine education.  This is the hope that we see in the voucher program.

In the next part of the blog, I am going to highlight some of the arguments against school vouchers and align it with data from the Indiana Department of Education (IDOE) and hopefully we will get a better understanding of the programs.

1.) The program has increased and students are leaving public school in droves.

Not so.  2013-2014  traditional public schools have an enrollment of 1,011,767 or 89.5% .  Choice schools have an enrollment of 19,809 or 1.8%.  The program has expanded being very popular  and this year it includes kindergarten and limited special education students. (Note: there are other schools that fall into neither traditional or choice and I have not included these schools.) These are the numbers on students leaving local schools:  Delaware Community, Wes-Del, Liberty-Perry, Daleville and Cowan saw zero, Yorktown had 13 and Muncie Community schools saw 100 for the 2013-2014 school year.

2,) Vouchers benefit the wealthy.

The income criteria is based upon the federal guideline for families which qualify for free or reduced lunch.  A family of 2 with an income level of $28,694 is 90% scholarship and the percentage decreases as the income level increases.  I don’t know any “wealthy” families who qualify for federal food stamp program.

3.) Minorities are discriminated against, and children aren’t exposed to different social and ethnic environments.

Again, this is a fallacy.  2013-2014 year saw 44% minority enrollment and whites made up 56%.

4.) I don’t want my tax dollars going to vouchers.

This is a valid argument for many.  However, as a taxpayer, I do want my tax dollars to go to fund better education models.  Should this program prove no educational traction, then by all means end the program.  As I said earlier, we can’t know the outcome in a year or two, even three  We can benchmark and review.  Unfortunately, some deemed it as a failure tight from the start.

The highest amount of an award for 2013-2014 is $5,806.84 the lowest award is $ 2,856.82.  The average is roughly $4,500.  K-12 at $4,500 averaged per student amounts to $89,140,500 If every student received the highest award $5,806 the total expenditure would be $115,011,054.

I wasn’t all that thrilled when Delaware County spent $1.8 million for solar-powered non-working streetlights or $700,000 County Building plaza area.  I suppose it just depends on what side of the spending you sit on.    So, while their argument is valid from where they stand, I believe my argument is just as valid.

The information and data can be found in IDOE’s annual report.  It contains 46 pages and covers income, tuition, demographics and school information.  I have yet to read every page, still, I believe this is one program we do need to follow closely.

Choice-Scholarship-Program-Annual-Report-012714 (PDF)

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