Karen Francisco, editor of the editorial page of the Fort Wayne Journal Gazette, is grateful that Indiana Governor Eric Holcomb will not cut the budget of the state’s schools, but wonders whether the state can afford to maintain more than one system of publicly-funded schools. She might well have also asked whether the state can afford a third system of privately-managed charter schools.

Currently, there are 326 private and religious schools in the state receiving $172.7 million annually. Taxpayers have paid more than $1 billion to non-public schools since the choice program began nine years ago. Researchers have found that voucher schools do not provide better education than public schools; typically the students in voucher schools perform worse than their peers in public schools or at best, keep up with them.

When the fall campaign season gets underway, Statehouse candidates should be prepared to share their views on the growing cost of funding two Indiana school systems. In a struggling economy, can we afford it?

As the cost of the voucher program increased by 7%, the number of students participating increased by just over 1%. Voucher enrollment actually declined in the fall, the first time in the program’s nine-year history, according to the report. But voucher eligibility was expanded to add a second enrollment period from Nov. 1 to Jan. 15, so that 459 more students enrolled for spring.

Coincidentally, President Donald Trump and Vice President Mike Pence chose this week to tout school choice as an answer to racial injustice.

“We’re fighting for school choice, which really is the civil rights of all time in this country,” Trump said in remarks in a White House Rose Garden news conference. “Frankly, school choice is the civil rights statement of the year, of the decade and probably beyond because all children have to have access to quality education.”

But Indiana’s school choice program is not a civil rights program.

Indiana’s Choice Scholarship program hasn’t seen a stampede of minority students to private and parochial schools. Fewer black students received vouchers this past year than in the previous school year. While the percentage of Indiana children younger than 18 who are black is 14%, the percentage of black students participating in the voucher program is 11.79%. Hispanic youth make up 25% of Indiana youth 18 and under but 22% receive vouchers. White youth make up 50% of Hoosiers under 18 but nearly 57% of voucher recipients.

Meanwhile, the costs of reopening the schools safely will be substantial. Last year’s budget will be I sifficient to ensure that schools can reopen safely. It is time to ask whether the state can afford two separate publicly-funded school systems.