(Fort Wayne) News-Sentinel

Gov. Mike Pence likes to brag that Indiana has the largest education voucher program in the country. Usually that boast ignites a debate about the desirability of such school choice programs. The claim itself is taken at face value.

But now that Pence is Donald Trump’s GOP vice presidential running mate, his declarations are getting more scrutiny. The Washington Post has researched his “largest program” claim and found it not quite accurate.

It is true that Indiana has the single largest education voucher program of any state, with 32,695 students participating. But some other states have multiple smaller voucher programs instead of one large one. Ohio, for example, has four programs, with a total enrollment of 45,459 students, which gives it the largest participation rate in the nation. Wisconsin ranks just behind Indiana with 31,295 students in three programs, and a fourth program now accepting enrollees.

Furthermore, Indiana’s voucher program is different from those in most other states because it is designed much more broadly.

In Ohio, for example, the Post reports, three of the four programs are limited to specific groups of students, either by their disability status or by their school district. Ohio has a statewide voucher program, but it is limited to students in chronically low-performing public schools, also called “failing” schools. Ten percent of Ohio’s K-12 students are eligible for this program.

In comparison, the Post reports, 59 percent of K-12 students in Indiana’s statewide school voucher program are eligible, and over 50 percent of recipients never attended public school prior to getting a voucher.

Just 2 percent of children in Indiana’s program come from “failing” schools, data from the Indiana Department of Education show. There is no cap on the number of vouchers in Indiana’s program, unlike programs in most other states.

Indiana’s program has grown much more quickly than originally planned and moved far beyond the original scope of giving the poorest students in the worst districts the kind of education choices the well-off have always had. It is time for officials to take a pause and assess what vouchers are supposed to accomplish and whether the current criteria are the right ones.

There are now 26 voucher programs in 15 states, so there is a lot for us to study. That’s what federalism’s vision for states as “the laboratories of democracy” is all about. Let’s not boast that we have the biggest voucher program but the best one.

This was distributed by Hoosier State Press Association. Send comments to dr-editorial@greenfield reporter.com.