Indiana blogger Steve Hinnefeld is puzzled, as am I. School choice has not fulfilled any of its bold promises. The charter industry is rife with waste, fraud, and abuse, and large numbers of them close every year. Vouchers were supposed to “save poor kids from failing schools,” but mostly they subsidize well-off kids who never attended public schools. Why do red states keep pumping more resources into failed programs that are neither innovative nor successful?

He writes:

Pundits have been wringing their hands over the “learning loss” caused by the COVID-19 pandemic. Scores on the 2022 National Assessment of Educational Progress showed the largest decline in decades.

But if people care about what kids are and aren’t learning, they should be every bit as alarmed by the private school voucher programs that are spreading across the country.

That’s according to Joshua Cowen, a Michigan State University education policy professor. He’s been studying vouchers and following the research for two decades, and he says the evidence is crystal clear that voucher programs don’t work when it comes to helping students learn.

In a recent episode of “Have You Heard,”an education podcast, he said thorough evaluations of large-scale voucher programs – in Indiana, Louisiana, Ohio and Washington, D.C. – found overwhelmingly negative effects on learning as measured by test scores.

“We’ve seen some of the biggest drops in test scores that we’ve ever seen in the research community for people who take vouchers and go to private schools,” he said.

The impact on math scores, in some cases, was twice as large as the test-score decline associated with the pandemic, he said. It was on the scale of what New Orleans students lost when Hurricane Katrina shut down schools and forced families from their homes.

“They suffered that badly, in terms of their test scores,” he said. “We’re talking about nine or 10 months loss of learning. It’s massive….”

Cowen said he naively thought the conclusive research findings would put a nail in the coffin for state voucher programs. In fact, the opposite has happened. There are now 29 voucher programs in 16 states enrolling over 300,000 students, according to the pro-voucher group EdChoice. Arizona recently adopted a “universal voucher” program. Some states have adopted Education Savings Accounts, private-school tax credits and other neo-voucher programs.

Indiana expanded its already large voucher program in 2021. The program grew last year to over 44,000 students at a cost to the public of nearly a quarter billion dollars. Nearly all participating private schools are religious, and some discriminate by religion, disability, sexual orientation and gender identity. A 2018 evaluation of the effects of Indiana’s program – cited by Cowen and conducted by professors at Notre Dame and the University of Kentucky – found significant test-score declines in math.

Why haven’t voucher programs disappeared if they don’t work? The title of the “Have You Heard” episode sums it up: “Moving the Goalposts.”

Parents have the right to send their children to low-performing religious schools or to homeschool them. But why should taxpayers subsidize their personal choices?