When I participated in a post-legislative session discussion for Fort Wayne's public television station recently, I noted that school vouchers were not a campaign issue last fall. The ultra-conservative columnist/reporter for the city's evening newspaper dismissed my comment by saying that vouchers always have been an issue.
Later, I reviewed my notes from dozens of primary and general-election legislative interviews and found no mention of vouchers. But the columnist/reporter is probably right from the perspective of private and parochial school supporters. This story from Education Week finds that enrollment in private and parochial schools took a "sharp dip" with the economy.
According to the article: "Private school enrollment fell from a high of 6.3 million students in the 2001-2002 school year to 5.5 million in 2009-2010, according to figures released this morning by the National Center for Education Statistics, which produces the annual statistical compendium. It's been slight declines, and then all of a sudden this year <2009-2010> they lost 500,000 kids, said Jack Buckley, the NCES commissioner."
That enrollment drop surely didn't go unnoticed by the private and parochial schools. Behind the scenes, there undoubtedly were private conversations with lawmakers about how to advance a voucher entitlement program. In Indiana, Gov. Mitch Daniels and state Superintendent Tony Bennett personally called on Catholic educators to rally support for the voucher legislation.
By contrast, the top public school official in Wisconsin opposes vouchers.
"To spend hundreds of millions to expand a 20-year-old program that has not improved overall student achievement, while defunding public education is morally wrong," wrote Superintendent Tony Evers in a letter sent to the Wisconsin legislature's budget committee this week.
Wisconsin has the oldest voucher program in the nation, but results show little difference in the achievement records of students from low-income families compared to their counterparts in public schools.