Carol Burris describes in this post how Indiana Governor Mitch Daniels and Governor Mi,e Pence created the most expansive voucher program in the nation.

“Last year, the taxpayers of Indiana paid out $146.1 million to voucher schools, with most of it going to families who would have sent their children to private school anyway.”

The program was launched by Go Error Daniels in 2011.

Indiana’s 2011 voucher program began literally with a kiss when then Gov. Mitch Daniels picked up the bill and brought it to his lips. Daniels and his allies did more than just begin the nation’s largest voucher program. As the bill made its way through the statehouse, a $1,000 tax deduction for homeschoolers and private school families was also added. This allowed private school parents and homeschoolers to deduct costs above tuition, such as school supplies.

Daniels also expanded the already existing Scholarship Tax Credit Program that gives tax credits to companies and individuals who make donations to “scholarship” organizations that, in turn, provide vouchers. Those taking the credit get 50 percent of what they donate back.

The passage of the voucher bills and tax write-offs were hailed then by Betsy DeVos, then a school choice advocate and now U.S. education secretary, who said, “We thank Governor Daniels and the Indiana Legislature for working so hard to make widespread school choice a reality across the state.”

Since 2011, the political action committees (PACs) of the American Federation for Children, which she co- founded, have contributed $1,040,540 to Republican pro-voucher Hoosiers and PACs. DeVos family members, including Betsy and her husband Dick, have personally contributed $1,525,000 to Indiana candidates or PACs since the voucher law was put in place. Their prior contributions (1998 to 2010) in that state totaled only $62,000.

The passage of the voucher bill was also praised by Robert Enlow, president and chief executive officer of the Milton and Rose Friedman Foundation for Educational Choice, which changed its name in 2016 to EdChoice. The chairman of the EdChoice board is the CEO of Overstock.com., Patrick M. Byrne. A Utah resident, Byrne contributed $465,000 to Indiana candidates and PACs beginning with Mitch Daniels’s campaign. He and his family financed over $4 million of the $5 million raised by Families for Choice, a PAC formed to support vouchers in a 2007 Utah referendum. Upon realizing that vouchers were rejected by 62 percent of voters, Byrne referred to the referendum as a “statewide IQ test that Utah voters failed…

Pence, as governor, did everything he could to expand school choice. He grew the number of charter schools by creating a $50 million, low-interest loan program for technology and transportation as well as a $500 per student charter increase, which the legislature had scaled back from his original $1,500 ask.

The greatest growth, however, was in the state’s voucher program. Pence, who describes his religious beliefs as evangelical, removed the cap on the number of students who could qualify for a voucher to a private school, increased the limits on qualifying family income, and removed Daniel’s stipulation that the student had to try the public school first.

No longer was money being saved as a small number of students transferred from public to private schools. Now middle-income families already using private schools were having their tuition paid for, at least partially, by the state.

Nearly all of the 300-plus Indiana private schools that receive vouchers are religious schools. Although they may not discriminate in admissions based race, color, national origin or disability, they can require attendance in a designated church, mosque or synagogue and they may select students based on other factors such as test scores, discipline records and the lifestyle of their parents…

Voucher schools with grades of ‘D’ or ‘F’ for two years in a row are prohibited from taking on new voucher students until they raise performance. This law cost private schools with poor test scores considerable funding. To keep the voucher money flowing, last summer the legislature passed a new law that allows voucher schools to appeal to the State Board of Education, whose members are appointed by the governor. As soon as the law was passed, four religious schools applied for a waiver and all four were approved to take on new voucher students despite their failing grades.

The Indiana voucher program has also been an escape hatch for failing charter schools. The Padua Academy, a charter school in Indianapolis, had two years of consecutive failing ratings. Instead of shutting down, Padua became St. Anthony’s Catholic School. The same principal who led the failing charter stayed on as the leader of the replacement voucher school, which received $1.2 million in tax dollars.

Failing charters flipping to voucher schools is not limited to Padua. Imagine Schools is the largest charter management corporation in the United States. Imagine was founded and operated by Dennis Bakke, the former CEO of an energy company, AES, which merged with the Indianapolis Power and Light Company (IPALCO) in 2001. That merger would quickly become a disaster for IPALCO stockholders and workers. Stock price plummeted and many lost their jobs and their retirement savings.

When Bakke was ousted from AES in 2002 after its stock crashed, he moved into the charter management business. Imagine quickly expanded and became notorious for the real estate deals of its subsidiary company, SchoolHouse Finance. SchoolHouse Finance buys properties, often selling them for twice or three times the purchase to a buyer, and then leases them back from the buyer in order to then lease them to Imagine charter schools at exorbitant rates. Investigations of Imagine Charters in Ohio and Florida found charters paying leases that amounted, in some cases, to half of the schools’ revenue from tax dollars. Imagine was fined $1 million by Missouri for self-dealing.

We are reminded yet again that the allocation of public money without strict accountability is a invitation to commit fraud and self-dealing.