Six years into the nation's largest educational voucher program, most Hoosiers have come to accept school choice as a basic right. Too few have stopped to question whether Indiana is going down the correct path, even as the cost of the program ballooned from $16 million in 2011-12 to $146 million in the last school year.
The Journal Gazette has kept close tabs on the Indiana Choice Scholarship Program, so we welcomed the opportunity to work with HuffPost for a deep dive into the subject. Their website draws 170 million unique visitors a month and was the top-rated publisher on Facebook in 2016. On a 25-city “Listen to America” road trip, HuffPost is teaming up with a local partner in each city for an in-depth project. The Indiana voucher program – touted by federal education officials as a national model – was the obvious topic in Fort Wayne, where the effects are considerable.
School choice is not a new idea in Fort Wayne. The community has long benefited from a rich selection of private and parochial schools, serving students alongside and often in collaboration with public schools. Choice also has been a feature within the public schools, with magnet schools and intradistrict transfers allowed in Fort Wayne Community Schools for nearly 30 years.
What's different now is an ever-growing number of school options, supported by Indiana taxpayers, to form a parallel system of schools.
And unlike the “general and uniform system of Common Schools, wherein tuition shall be without charge, and equally open to all” prescribed in the Indiana Constitution, the parallel system raises issues and questions unaddressed by supporters. Some, raised in the stories reported by HuffPost and The Journal Gazette, form the basis of our editorial board's longstanding concerns:
Transparency: As private schools, voucher schools are not subject to the open records and meetings law public schools must follow. Their boards are not elected, and their budgets are not public information. Taxpayers with questions about the schools' spending are generally out of luck. They are exempt from requirements to publish annual performance reports.