School voucher funds in Indiana go overwhelmingly to religious schools. While that fact has been apparent and reported upon for years, the degree to which voucher money supports religious institutions deserves renewed public attention in the wake of the demand by the archbishop of the Archdiocese of Indianapolis that schools under his purview fire teachers in same-sex marriages.
Discrimination against married gay employees is out in the open now. Racial segregation, whether produced through intention or structural factors, is also a fact. For instance, Roncalli High School—which fired two married gay counselors—had three black students in a student body of more than 1,000 in 2018–19 (public schools in the neighborhood had 7% and 12% black students). And discrimination is built into the practices that we tend to take for granted about private schools. They can limit enrollment to families who subscribe to their religious beliefs. They can steer away students with special needs.
The Indiana Department of Education releases an annual report (the Choice Scholarship Program Annual Report) that shows state expenditures on the voucher program. In 2018–19, Indiana taxpayers spent $161 million to send the children of qualifying families to private schools. Of that $161 million, less than six tenths of a percent (about $930,000) went to secular schools. Put another way, 99.4% of voucher money is going to religious schools.
How do we know? Our organizations, the state-level Indiana Coalition for Public Education (ICPE) in Indianapolis and ICPE–Monroe County, pored over the IDOE data in the choice scholarship report; you can explore our organization of that data here. Many schools’ names advertise their religious affiliation. Catholic schools make up 45% of voucher-receiving schools, with 67 in the Archdiocese of Indianapolis ($38.6 million in 2018-19), 26 in the Diocese of Evansville ($7.8 million in 2018-19), 20 in the Diocese of Gary ($10.9 million in 2018-19), 17 in the Diocese of Lafayette ($5.3 million in 2018-19), and 43 in the Diocese of Fort Wayne–South Bend ($28.7 million in 2018-19). There are 44 schools listed as part of Lutheran Schools of Indiana ($14.3 million in 2018-19). Of the 127 schools categorized as Independent Non-Public Schools, the names of most are explicitly religious, with Christian, Baptist, or Faith in their names. Fewer than ten are Jewish or Muslim. In the small number of cases that were not identified as religious through their names, we visited the school websites. Our examination of the IDOE data indicates that there were eleven nonreligious private schools participating in the voucher program in 2018-19. Since some of these had fewer than ten, if any, students receiving voucher funding, the amount received was withheld due to FERPA laws.
And what happens when that state funding is electronically transferred to the school bank accounts directly from the Indiana Department of Education? Since there are no financial reporting requirements for voucher schools, Indiana’s citizens have no way of knowing. Unlike public schools, which are held to transparency standards, private schools do not publish budgets and are not subject to public records requests. Neither are the private schools receiving vouchers audited by the State Board of Accounts. Are schools spending the money on teachers, curricular materials, and academic programs? Are they constructing new buildings, like the St. Nicholas School in Ripley County?
Are they directing some of it to the churches that historically supported them? Are they providing deserved benefits to their employees or outsized salaries for administrators? The legislators who lifted the voucher legislation from the American Legislative Exchange Council model bill did not think the public deserved to know.
—Keri Miksza, Jenny Robinson, and MaryAnn Schlegel Ruegger