Ep. 138: Choice in the States – Indiana with Robert Enlow

September 19, 2019

Robert Enlow, who has been with EdChoice since it’s initial founding as the Milton and Rose Friedman Foundation for Educational Choice in 1996, talks with our Director of Policy Jason Bedrick. They discuss some of the early school choice legislation in Indiana and more.

Jason Bedrick: Welcome back to another edition of EdChoice Chats. I’m Jason Bedrick, director of policy at EdChoice, and this is another edition of our policy series.

I am delighted to be joined today by the President and CEO of EdChoice, and my boss, Robert Enlow, who has been involved in the state of Indiana where we are located and which is going to be the topic of our discussion today. Robert, thanks for coming on.

Robert Enlow: Thanks for having me, obviously. And obviously not only located here as an organization, but I was born here in the great state of Indiana down in a place called Evansville, which is southern Indiana on the banks of the Ohio River at what we used to call the Tri-State Area. So, it’s the nexus between Illinois, Indiana and Kentucky.

Jason Bedrick: Well, there’s no better place to start than the beginning, and you’ve been here since the beginning of school choice efforts in the state. Why don’t you take us all the way back to the beginnings of what was then called the Friedman Foundation and even a little bit before that with the beginnings of the school choice movement in Indiana.

Robert Enlow: So, not quite right at the very beginning, but we’re darn close to it at EdChoice and formally the Friedman Foundation. So, when we arrived in 1996, there had been a few efforts beforehand. Now Speaker Bosma, Brian Bosma of the State House Representatives had put in a school choice bill prior to 1996, in the early ’90s. And heck, even Pat Bauer, the Democrat Speaker the House at one point, his father had introduced a voucher way back in the day in the ’70s. So, there had been some early efforts way before the 1996 time, but not too many.

Prior to us getting there though, in 1995 a group of business leaders had gotten together and with two organizations and they put together an educational reform package that didn’t include choice, but did include a lot of sort of anti-union, a takedown of the state’s largest school districts at that point, Indianapolis Public Schools, and they got rid of collective bargaining. They did a whole bunch of stuff inside the state’s largest school district. When we got to town that had blown up like you wouldn’t believe. So, the business community was trying to direct the public school community and there was a massive fight going on.

The first actual effort that we were involved with was something called KidsCan in 1997. At that point, Representative Bob Behning, before he was a House Ed Chair, was enamored and we had showed him what had happened with Arne Carlson in Minnesota. Arne Carlson had passed an individual tax-deduction, refundable tax-deduction, or tax credit as well as a tax deduction, and that was something that was intriguing to some of the legislators. And so there was an effort in 1997 that included the Chamber of Commerce and ourselves. And at that point, the GEO Foundation, which is run by an old friend of ours named Kevin Teasley, who runs charter schools now to create KidsCan, sort of personalized tax credits and refundable tax credits.

At that point, I think BAEO was getting off the ground, Black Alliance for Educational Options. We helped create a chapter here. So, that was all happening. At the same time, there were charter school efforts going on and you know, to be clear, a shout-out has to go out to Senator Teresa Lubbers. We would not have charter schools in the state of Indiana without Senator Teresa Lubbers. In fact, we wouldn’t have any real ed reform in my opinion, without Senator Lubbers. She was an amazing leader in the Senate for so long and actually spearheaded getting the charter bill passed in 2001.

And at that point it was one of the most innovative charter schools in the country, charter school laws. We were the only place that a big city mayor could charter schools. And so we had a Democrat mayor who wanted to support the idea of creating charter schools with a Republican legislature and we created a very innovative system of charter school authorizing, and that mixed with some of the choice efforts basically got us to 2001. The KidsCan effort failed for tax credits, but the charter school effort finally succeeded in 2001. And from that point onwards, it was sort of like a back and forth, how can we try and get some kind of tax credit or some kind of voucher, it was a lot of back and forth with different organizations getting involved. At that point, the Indianapolis Chamber was involved, the Indiana Chamber was involved, the Nonpublic Education Association was involved. The Catholic Conference involved. We were building the coalition.

Jason Bedrick: So, when was the first time that a voucher bill was introduced in Indiana?

Robert Enlow: Well, if you believe Pat Bauer, Democrat Speaker of the House in 1970s with this dad, Brian Bosma has said he’s introduced the first special needs voucher bill. Voucher bills were always introduced mostly every year, the question is whether they actually had the legs to get anything done. And there really wasn’t an effort to get something done successfully until Governor Daniels came on the scene. So, if there was a second shout-out you know, we would not have any kind of education reform of the state of Indiana, nor the kind of model that Indiana has become for the nation without Governor Mitch Daniels, now president of Purdue University. What a visionary and what an amazing leader.

So, Governor Daniels gets elected and his first term was made up of toll roads and daylight savings time and tax fixing and property tax reform, all the things non-education related. Again, our charter schools are starting to grow but there’s no choice program. And then in 2009, right before he gets reelected, there was a budget session and we had been pushing a scholarship tax-credit bill and we had been pushing it and pushing and pushing it and saying this it has to get done, has to get done. And the budget failed in the last seconds of the session. So, you know, as anyone who follows legislatures knows… dies at that point in time when the legislature comes to an absolute end, it usually is at midnight on the last day of the session. It could be a Sunday or it can be a Monday depending.

And in our state, the rules committee will suspend all the rules and then go vote on the final budget. Right? And this case had I think at 11:49 or :50 in the evening. I remember being there, that budget went down in the House. The Senate couldn’t get its way and as a result, a special session was going to have to be called and we knew that at that point we were in a place where we were going to demand that Governor Daniels is going to be part of making sure there was a scholarship tax credit too. In 2009, we passed a scholarship tax credit. Now what was very interesting is prior to that, and people don’t know this, the property tax reform in Indiana was a huge impetus to all of this reform. So, in 2006-07, Governor Daniels said we needed to reform property tax in our state.

And so the proposal was, homeowners would pay … would be capped at 1 percent of their assessed value, renters at 2 percent and businesses at 3 percent, and that the education operational budget, that’s part of property taxes, would be taken off of the local property tax and put on onto the state. So the state, Governor Daniels actually raised, I think a half cent tax, right, because he took off all of the operational part of the property tax for education and put it on the state. That actual change, which was huge right, so now in Indiana, property tax can only be used, unlike most states, only for debt re-servicing, transportation and capitol buildings, right. So, really separated out the operations from the buildings. What that did is that made every single school district open to be transferred to free of charge. So it blew open the doors of you could cross any district and go wherever you want.

Robert Enlow: Prior to that you had to pay like $4000 to go across the district. Because you had to pay the operational costs. Now you didn’t have to. And so that started to blow the doors open and allowed for more choices. So I think people can’t underestimate the impact of property tax reform on the fact of what we have now. So if you look at what’s happened, so there was business-led effort in the mid-nineties, worked on a personal tax credit program, get charter schools with a bipartisan coalition, including the Democrat mayor of Indianapolis, major property tax reform and early bite of the choice apple in 2009 and then 2010 and 2011 happened.

Jason Bedrick: So, before we get into the voucher program that was enacted after the tax-credit scholarship, let’s talk a little bit about how the tax-credit scholarship works here. Who’s eligible and who participates?

Robert Enlow: So, in Indiana, the Choice Charitable Trust, which had been a privately funded program serving only low-income families. That’s how it had been operating prior to 2009. In 2009, the state passed a law that allows individuals and corporations to claim up to a 50 percent state tax credit for gifts they voluntarily make to another nonprofit that gives out scholarships. Originally the Educational Choice Charitable Trust was a nonprofit already established, so all those kids in that program were automatically qualified for that program.

Jason Bedrick: And the original one is run by the government and now there’s five that are—

Robert Enlow: Oh no. The original one was a, no, the original one was a nonprofit started by Pat Rooney who was on our board. It was a private group. In fact, Pat Rooney’s organization was the first privately funded scholarship program in America. So, it was a nonprofit and it was just designated to be the one that would be starting so others could start as well.

Jason Bedrick: So, the state—

Robert Enlow: The state’s assembly said these are the scholarships… He didn’t say you had to be this one or only one bid, said this is the one we already know. So, we’re going to say that’s already approved. It’s sort of pre-approved, as it were. Now we have five in the state that are pre-approved nonprofits that are working across the state. The Choice Charitable Trust has changed its name a few times. It’s still the largest and it serves low income families. The great thing about our program here is it is 200 percent of free and reduced-price lunch, which is now 93,000 for a family of four, which is really good because that means we’re getting more working families into the program. That’s about 9,000 kids in the program now.

Robert Enlow: So, basically what we did is, there is a privately funded scholarship program that had been operating for some time. In 2009, the state passed a tax credit program that grandfathered that organization, that nonprofit, into being an approved nonprofit to give out scholarships. Five more have been created. There are about 9,000, so basically from ’96 to now, so we have a business-run effort that had been focused on anti-union work and getting workforce issues passed to a personal tax credit program through the Kids Can effort in ’97, through the 2001 charter school bill that Senator Lubbers passed with a bipartisan help from Mayor, then Democrat Mayor Mark Peterson.

Then we get to 2006-07 where we have property tax reform, which I think is an amazing effort by Governor Daniels that spearheaded everything we did after that. And then we get to 2009.

Jason Bedrick: So, with the tax-credit scholarship, corporations or individuals get a 50 percent tax credit for any contributions they make to one of those scholarship organizations. And then they fund the low- and middle-income families attending the school of their choice.

Robert Enlow: Yeah, it’s Charitable Choice. It’s another way for individuals to direct their tax dollars away, frankly from the government and towards families who need it more.

Jason Bedrick: And then in 2011, we had another expansion of school choice. Can you tell us about that?

Robert Enlow: So, it’s 2010 or 2009 when this really started. So, we realized that there’s going to be a potential if Governor Daniels gets reelected to really try and do something innovative and big and so through lots of effort and through lots of partnerships, through the election of Superintendent Tony Bennett, in Indiana, who was an incredible reformer and incredible passionate person who wanted the best for kids and wanted more reform. I’ve never seen anyone go up on the State House floor and make a ruckus like Tony Bennett has done before.

A package is put together in 2011 that becomes the governor’s education package. That package, people don’t realize, I think it was seven separate things. One, it was grading schools at A to F. Two, it was ending teacher seniority, right, so it was ending tenure, teacher tenure. Three, it was eliminating collective bargaining except for wages and benefits. Four, it was creating Governor Daniels’ early graduation scholarship of $4,000. If you’ve had enough credits to graduate as a sophomore, you can start going to college and get $4,000 immediately. And massive expansion of the charter school law to include other authorizers. And then the enactment of the Choice Scholarship Program, which is the voucher program.

So, it was this big, huge package and the mantra was very simple. It all passes or none of it passes. Now you’ve got to remember at the same time as this, the legislators were deciding that right to work in their mind, they said, was the worst thing in the world. Obviously that’s the collective bargaining agreement, but it was really the voucher things that they were mad at. They decided to, the Democrats, decided to take a break and go to Illinois for a while.

Jason Bedrick: This made national news. I remember that.

Robert Enlow: Yes. So, in Indiana, the Democrats, being not in a majority, in fact, being in a slim, only one away from a super majority, I think for the Republicans, the Democrats decided to take a break and go sit in the hotel in—

Jason Bedrick: In Illinois.

Robert Enlow: In Illinois, just across the border. This, of course, caused everyone much consternation and much grief, but what it also led—

Jason Bedrick: They had to go to Illinois because otherwise the sergeant at arms could arrest them.

Robert Enlow: That is correct. That is correct. So, there were lots of conversations about whether that would actually happen or not. In fact, all you needed was one Democrat to get to quorum in the House. Right. So, everyone was looking for that elusive one Democrat to come back. And again, this isn’t not meant to be partisan. This is just the way it was.

The mantra was it all passes or none of it passes. And so what ended up passing was this huge package of reforms including the Choice Scholarship Bill. Now the Choice Scholarship Bill is, at that point, was the nation’s largest and most expansive voucher program. It basically said that any family who earns up to one and a half times of the free and reduced price lunch amount would be eligible to receive a scholarship. And that scholarship amount, would be based on what the state would spend on that child in their district of residence. And if you were low income, IE, qualified for free and reduced-price lunch, you get 90 percent of what the state would spend. And if you were between a free and reduced-price lunch in one and a half times that, you got 50 percent of what the state would have spent.

So, of course, you had access to no local or no federal funds. And so we knew early on that this was a very expansive bill because we made it statewide. We made initially a cap of 5,000 and 15,000 and no cap. So, we knew there was going to be no cap. What was very unique about this bill is two things. One, it was fully funded. If you had a seat in a private school and you were qualified as a child, you could go. And so there was no hesitation. So, and it was connected to the funding formula.

The second thing we did is, the state of Indiana has been requiring private schools to take the state test for a long time. And most of that was done with private school support back in the ‘80s because they wanted to play basketball and football. And so the most powerful entity in the state of Indiana is the Indiana High School Athletic Association. Many private schools that were accredited, were taking the state test already, right?

Jason Bedrick: For our listeners’ sake, maybe you can explain what it means that they want to take the test so that they can play basketball and football.

Robert Enlow: So, look, there’s a lot of debate about whether you should ask private schools to take the state mandated test or a nationally normed reference test. Obviously we believe at EdChoice that it should be nationally normed reference test at the most, right. Schools should be free to decide what tests they think works best for their children. But Hoosier basketball is a big deal. When I was born, there were three people at my birth and it was my mother and my doctor and my basketball coach. So, the idea of playing basketball in the state of Indiana, which is, you know, many of us bleed cream and crimson for Indiana Hoosier basketball.

You know, this is a big deal and private schools wanted to be involved as non-public schools and so many of them had decided to become state accredited so that they can participate in high school athletics.

Jason Bedrick: And that requires taking the state test.

Robert Enlow: And at that point it required taking the state test. Now, not every school has to do that right now, it’s changing. So, our scholarship tax credit program does not require the state test. And so some schools only participate in the scholarship tax-credit program and not the voucher program. But because of the work we had been doing from 2009 onwards, and even before that, with the creation of a group called School Choice Indiana, we had basically gotten to the point where the day the voucher program passed, there were 280 private schools that had already signed up. So, we had had a three-month window to get everything up and running.

We got it up and running. It started with 3,000 kids, it was the fastest growth in the first year of any program at that point. And actually it was the fastest second year and fastest third year. And so we’ve seen very strong growth in this program to now there are almost 36,000 kids in the program in Indiana or about three and a half percent.

Jason Bedrick: So, it was about 4,000 in 2012 and then all the way up to about 36,000 the last year.

Robert Enlow: Yeah, and now we’re sort of at a point in Indiana where we’ve got to do something to expand the student eligibility because what happened after 2011, it was a huge growth and then Governor Daniels, Lees and Governor Pence, now Vice President Pence, is brought in, and his first act in 2013 is to expand the voucher program. One of his first bills and that voucher program then was expanded to have multiple pathways into the program.

If you were a child in a failing school district, you could be automatically eligible for a voucher. If you had special needs, you were eligible for a voucher. If you were a sibling of a voucher receiver, you could be eligible for a voucher. So there were multiple pathways into the program that were expanded under Governor Pence, now Vice President Pence. And so basically looking back to, you had passed this bill in 2011 it grows very clearly and then Governor Pence gets in, expands it, and now we’re to almost 40,000 kids.

Jason Bedrick: Not without hurdles though, right after it passed, it was the subject of a lawsuit. Could you tell us a little bit about that?

Robert Enlow: Ah, the lawsuits. So, my old friend Clint Bullock, who’s now a Supreme Court Justice in Arizona, he used to say, if you have a school choice program, you have a school choice lawyer. That was for IJ. I used to joke with them, if you have a school choice program, you have a school choice lawsuit. And that’s exactly what happened here. You know, the teacher’s union filed a lawsuit immediately, pretty close to immediately to enjoin the program. Obviously that didn’t happen, but the state decided to, well, here’s what happened. It was very interesting.

They filed a lawsuit. We were allowed to continue collecting names and getting people signed up for the first part of the year. And then the Supreme Court has to really quickly turn around a decision. We have a five-member Supreme Court. And so that case was probably one of the biggest and quickest, fastest decisions in favor of school choice that I’ve ever seen. I’ve seen a lot of court actions in 20 plus years. The Indiana Supreme Court decided, and it feels like within seven months, right, although we have had all our legal ducks in a row, we had bulletproofed the bill. We had had everything ready to go. It felt like within seven months, the Indiana Supreme Court basically came down on a five to zero ruling saying this choice bill is absolutely constitutional. The state of Indiana—

Jason Bedrick: Didn’t wind its way up there, it first had to go through the trial court and all that.

Robert Enlow: Yes, that’s right. It went through the trial court with Judge-

Jason Bedrick: The lawsuit was filed in July of 2011 and then they got a summary judgment in favor of the program in January. So that alone took about six months. The Supreme Court heard oral arguments later that year, but it wasn’t until November that it got all the way up to the State Supreme Court and then they issued in March of 2013 there five to four decision.

Robert Enlow: So, the lawsuit, which, you’re right, so thanks for the refresher on the timeline, things run into each other. The lawsuit was filed in 2011 and the summary judgment happened with Judge Keel in the Marion County Superior Court. Judge Keel made a very declarative ruling, which I think was interesting. Our program was allowed to run during this whole case.

Jason Bedrick: Right. That’s very important because in some cases the lawsuit was filed after the enactment of the program, but before the first scholarship or voucher was given out, and then in cases like that, they often, judges like to stay with the status quo. So, in some of those cases they issued an injunction and said, OK, you cannot start this program until we’ve assessed the constitutionality. In this case, students were already receiving scholarships and the judge decided, you know what, we’re not going to yank all these low income kids out of school, we’re going to let them continue going while we figure out the constitutionality of the program. What was being challenged exactly?

Robert Enlow: What was being challenged was whether aid can flow to private schools that are religious. I mean there was a first amendment challenge. There was also a state challenge as well and that, I believe, was a state uniformity challenge. I’m pretty sure.

Jason Bedrick: And there’s a clause that’s similar to a Blaine Amendment in Indiana’s constitution. Section six.

Robert Enlow: Article six, section something as I recall.

Jason Bedrick: I don’t have the article. Essentially—

Robert Enlow: I remember, here’s the, hold on. This is actually my … We hung all of our things on this quote and I remember this very … because we spent a lot of time on this. The state of Indiana shall establish a set of common schools that are funded by the public; and ensure that every child is educated by … The legislature, has the means to educate anyone for the general diffusion of knowledge or the science. And so it was this semi-colon and, and I remember this distinctly that became the linchpin in some ways of our case. So, yes, we had to establish a traditional common school system, which we had in Indiana, but the legislature was well within its rights because of that semi-colon and, to establish any other program at wanting to establish it, which is what the court relied on.

Jason Bedrick: Right. And it was prohibited from directly funding theological schools that are producing pastors and ministers, but that didn’t apply to primary education. So, I’ll give you one quick quote from the unanimous ruling of the State Supreme Court in Meredith V Pence. It’s at first the voucher program expenditures do not directly benefit religious schools, but rather directly benefit lower income families with school children by providing an opportunity for such children to attend nonpublic schools if desired. Second, the prohibition against government expenditures to benefit religious or theological institutions does not apply to institutions and programs providing primary and secondary education.

Robert Enlow: That’s a huge ruling, if you think about it. So basically it’s saying any aid going to families from the public coffers, even if it’s to religious entities are not violating the constitution of Indiana.

Jason Bedrick: Right. And that it’s these students who are the beneficiaries, not the schools.

Robert Enlow: Yeah. The way we see it, it’s aid to families. It’s not aid to schools.

Jason Bedrick: Right. Just like nobody says that SNAP, food stamps, well that’s for grocery stores. Well, no, they’re going to be used at grocery stores, but the beneficiary are the hungry, not the grocery store.

Robert Enlow: Yeah. Look, we were very lucky in Indiana to have such an, believe it or not speedy, it was speedy. Right? So, from July 11 to March 13, in court terms is pretty doggone speedy, as I recall. For those of us who remember the United States Supreme Court effort with Cleveland, Ohio’s program. That started in 1997 and didn’t get dealt with until 2002, so for an 18-month ruling all the way from the Superior Court to the Supreme Court of Indiana is pretty darn quick. We’re really pleased about the ruling and of course that led to the expansion of the program even further because as you know, one of the barriers to a program growing is if someone thinks it’s not going to be there next year because a case might get ruled against you. So, that expanded our program even further.

It’s actually the case, interesting is called Meredith v. Pence. It was originally called Meredith v. Daniels and it was actually before it was Meredith v. Daniels, it was originally Meredith and Glenda Ritz v. Daniels, right. Glenda Ritz at that point had won her superintendentship and so she couldn’t be part of the lawsuit anymore, so the name changed quite a bit on the lawsuit, which I think is quite funny.

Jason Bedrick: So, now we’ve got a program that is on firm constitutional ground. It’s been growing year after year. What’s next for school choice in Indiana?

Robert Enlow: So, I think you need to look at what’s happened with school choice. So going all the way back to ’96 to now, we’ve created a system of educational options for the state of Indiana that very few states can mirror. So, when we started there were well over about 91 percent of the kids, maybe 92 percent of the kids going to their assigned public school back in their late nineties and in fact in 2010 there was about 90 percent going there.

Now only 83 percent of the kids go to their assigned school. We have the public to public school choice program, which is the largest in the state, by the way. So people going across district lines are 55,000 of them, right? We have about 46,000 charter school students now about 37,000 private school choice students, voucher students, and about 55,000 students private paying. Right? So we’re getting to a state where we have so many good different options. We’re creating an environment for families to be able to choose whatever works for them. And that’s exactly what we want. And that’s really important, particularly from the scholarship side.

A lot of times school choice is seen only as an urban fix. And that’s not true and it shouldn’t be true, right? A child needs to get in where they fit in and what we did in Indiana, which I think is absolutely what’s happening around the country is this isn’t about whether you’re poor and live in urban areas, although they are often the worst in terms of how education has benefited them. So, Milton used to say the truly tragic situation is for those in the urban areas who have the schools that have not worked for generations, right? Something like that.

But places like rural Indiana, which is really poor, right? You now have some options happening. Places like suburban Indiana where you have some families that don’t fit in, whether it’s because they’re bullied or other reasons, they now have options they never had. And so, one of the things I track most in our Indiana program is that it’s only now about 60 percent are in urban Indiana, the rest are in suburban and rural and in towns. That’s a huge thing. That means this program is getting around the state and people are using it and because it’s income based, whether I like that or not, it certainly means it’s affecting those families who have greater needs.

And that’s also why we scale the voucher amount, right? So, we wanted to make sure we gave more money to those who needed more, but we opened it up for others, I think. And then what the future means for us now is we have this wide open system of options, but we need to start getting more children eligible to attend nonpublic schools, right? So, we need to go from 150 percent of free and reduced-price lunch to 200 percent minimum, right? We need to expand it to equal the tax credit program, because people forget public schools traditionally, there’s no income basis to that. Billionaires can get free public schools all day long. Billionaires, by the way, can get free charter schools all day long, right? This idea of income limits only seems to work good if it’s a non-public school, which I don’t get right?

Everyone else has to pay in non-public school, but no one has to pay if it’s a charter school or a public school, right? So, this is interesting duality of this conversation about that. So, we need to increase the eligibility and then we need to increase the amounts, right? So we need to give more money and drive more money into sort of the working poor because one and a half times free and reduced price lunch for working family of five is really not that much. I mean, if you think about how life works nowadays, and how much, if you’re a family of four and you’re earning $70,000 and you have a house and two cars, you’re trying to get …both of you work, you know, you’re not living on the high hog with that kind of money. And so we want to make sure we’re trying to benefit as many families that needed as we can.

So, we want to, it would be great to add a, as I said, we have a 90 percent and a 50 percent voucher amount. It’d be great to add a 75 percent in the middle of that and expand the eligibility.

Jason Bedrick: And so it would be great to expand the program. But before we do that, I think politicians are going to want to know is this working or not? Do we have any evidence that it’s working?

Robert Enlow: So, a couple of things. Obviously I just talked about the need to expand it, this incredible environment, this ecosystem we’ve created of options across our state. There are over almost 200 school districts that are going public to public. There are over 300 private schools, there are over a hundred charter schools. There’s this massive ecosystem and we want to expand the options for families who need help to go to a nonpublic school.

We also have some amazing things working in our city of Indianapolis with some charter schools and what they call the innovation schools, because that’s a whole other thing we didn’t talk about, innovation schools. All this choice has forced our state’s largest school district, the Indianapolis Public School District, to become extremely innovative in trying to solve its problem. And so that’s really cool. But the real question is, is it working, right? Are families doing better? Are kids doing better, and is society doing better? Because everyone’s got to remember, what is our mission statement, right? Our mission statement at EdChoice is advancing educational choices, a pathway to a successful life and a stronger society.

So, here’s what we know about the choice program in particular. And we also know about this charter schools. Kids in the choice program, or at least the voucher program, they do a little bit poorly on tests at the beginning and then depending on the study, they start to come back by year three and four. There is a study at Notre Dame saying that they’ve flattened out, so they basically revert to their peers in public schools and perform at that level. There’s a lot of debate about that. What we do know, however, is that kids in the non-public school choice program are retaining more. We do know that their parents are more involved in their community. We know that they’re more satisfied. We know that it’s saving the state dollars, we know that they’re going on to higher ed at a higher rate and they’re persisting at a higher rate.

There’s a ton of positive conversations happening here in our nonpublic schools, 92 percent of which are, if we’re going to believe school grades are rated A, B or C, right, so the vast number of them are rated A, B or C, so we think the program is doing well for kids and also what’s innovative about our program, again, whether you like school grading or not, if you’re a non-public school in our choice program and you get a D or an F for any two years in a row, you can’t take new kids that third year. If you get two F’s in a row, you can’t take new kids until you get two C’s in a row. This is real academic accountability and the kind of which our public schools would balk at every single time.

If you say to a traditional public school, “Hey, you know, we think you shouldn’t be able to expose your failing school to new kids. So, if you get two D’s in a row, you can’t take new kids in the next year. You have to just take the ones you got.” They would scream bloody murder, right? And so the argument here is that we don’t want to expose kids to bad education. They’ve got to improve faster. And so that’s the goal of our school system, our non-public school system here, we know it’s working fairly well. We believe it’s working well for students, particularly over time and we know it’s working for families.

Jason Bedrick: My guest today has been Robert Enlow, president and CEO of EdChoice. Robert, thank you for joining us.

Robert Enlow: Thanks for having me.

Jason Bedrick: Thank you for tuning into another edition of EdChoice Chats. Remember, you can subscribe on SoundCloud, iTunes and Stitcher. Follow us on social media at EdChoice and sign up for email on our website at edchoice.org. Thank you. We’ll see you next time.