Mishler takes a mighty swing

Recently, as school choice is winning all over the country, Senator Ryan Mishler (R-Mishawaka) stepped up to the plate with a rambling and confused letter criticizing Indiana’s school choice program because a school that accepts choice scholarships allegedly mistreated several of his constituents.

To be honest, it was hard to make sense of Mishler’s argument, but what was very clear from the beginning was that the Senator was going to use an experience at one private school to smear the hundreds of other schools participating in the state’s voucher program. And that is exactly what he did, potentially putting thousands of new families at risk of not getting a scholarship to attend a school they think is best for their child.

The Senator alleged that a staff member did something egregiously wrong to several families. The families were displeased, and the school did not respond in a manner the families or the senator thought was acceptable. That may be right. That may be wrong. For its part, the Diocese of Fort Wayne and the school in question released a statement saying that the senator’s allegations contain a “number of half-truths and omissions.”

No matter what, my heart goes out to all the families affected, as well as to the school.

My contention, though, is that the senator was not only logically inconsistent he got his facts about the program entirely wrong.

Logically, it stretches the imagination to paint this as some sort of scandal worthy of besmirching an entire program serving tens of thousands of middle-and-low-income students. To threaten to hold up new funding for a wildly successful program based on one experience is simply silly.

Would the senator think it fair to do the opposite? If a family said that they had a terrible experience with a public-school teacher or administrator, would he conclude that we should stop any future funding for all public schools. Would the senator think that a reasonable or logical line of argument? I hope not.

Moreover, I am willing to go out on a limb and say that many, many other Indiana parents have had the exact same experience with their local public school or their school of choice, but none of them had an elected official threatening the growth of a program that successfully serves thousands of families. Is it really appropriate for an elected leader to utilize his power and position to inflict harm and tear down others because he is mad?

Second, to argue that the state’s voucher program is not accountable or transparent is simply not factual. Schools accepting vouchers must be accredited, must not discriminate, must use licensed teachers, must comply with health and safety codes, must administer the state test, and, unlike public schools, may be kicked out of the program by the state Department of Education if they don’t comply.

Additionally, based on the best available data, the Indiana Choice Scholarship program has saved the state of Indiana a minimum of over $287 million dollars between 2011 and 2018. In the long run, the savings from the program to both the state and local districts are more like a billion dollars. Hardly a waste of money.

Third, despite the senator’s allegations, the Indiana Choice Scholarship program is wildly popular. According to a report that surveyed parents in the program, 86 percent of parents were satisfied with the program. Sixty-two percent said they were completely satisfied. Compare that to the only 32 percent of parents who think that public education is on the right tack in Indiana.

Ironically, the solution for the aggrieved families was, the Senator’s own words, school choice! They chose a local public school, and good for them. That matters because we know from the data that when parents choose, their children do better.

While I appreciate a legislator trying to look out for constituents, students in Indiana don’t need a state senator to throw shade or cast aspersions. They need options. Ultimately that was the answer for the families in the senator’s letter and it is the answer for the more than 200,000 Indiana families using public funds to choose another public school, innovation school, charter school or private school, all of whom are massively satisfied with their choices.

What is most sad to see is that while universal school choice is sweeping the nation, Indiana has a senator deliberately attacking a parent’s right to choose. I only hope that there won’t be any joy in Mudville because the mighty Mishler has struck out.