Indiana Parents Are Highly Satisfied with School Choice Programs, Survey Finds

Published August 8, 2016

Indiana parents use private school education choice programs because they want their children to be in a religious environment and want them to receive a higher-quality education than public schools offer, a new study says.

The report—which was produced by EdChoice, previously called the Friedman Foundation for Educational Choice—found private-school parents are overwhelmingly satisfied with their experiences dealing with their children’s schools.

According to survey results, 81 percent of school choice parents are “very satisfied” with their children’s schools, and 12 percent are “somewhat satisfied.”

The survey also offered other important key findings about school choice parents’ attitudes.

“The majority of choice parents said it was easy to find the right private schools for their kids, and they choose those schools for a variety of reasons,” wrote EdChoice. “The data debunks claims that voucher parents would have chosen private schools even without vouchers. Parents report more community and school engagement at their current private schools.”

The authors of the report conclude, “Taken together, these results indicate that parents are leaving public schools because they are not the best fit for their children. When choosing private schools, they are looking for the ones that will help their children develop into moral, educated citizens who know the difference between right and wrong and have a sense of values.”

Indiana has three private school education choice programs: the program, which partially reimburses parents for their schooling expenses; the Choice Scholarship Program, a school voucher; and the School Scholarship Tax Credit, a tax-credit scholarship.

Motivations, Satisfaction

In the EdChoice report, researchers Drew Catt and Evan Rhinesmith say the purpose of the study, which was released in June and titled “Why Parents Choose: A Survey of Private School and School Choice Parents in Indiana,” was “to better understand the experiences of private school parents and examine the reasons behind parents’ schooling decisions, especially when their children are using a voucher.”

The researchers collected data provided by 2,000 parents with children enrolled in private schools, 1,185 of whom had children in the state’s voucher and tax-credit scholarship programs.

The survey asked research questions: “What motivates parents to leave one school for another school? How important is academic quality, safety, and transportation to their decisions? How difficult is it for parents to find the preferred private school for their children? How satisfied were parents with their former schools, and how satisfied are they with their current schools?”

Choosing Religion, Quality, Morality

Catt, EdChoice’s director of state research and one of its policy analysts, says parents’ top reasons for leaving schools were “lack of religious environment and instruction, academic quality, and moral character.”

Catt says all education providers should be working to satisfy their customers. 

“In any field with supply and demand, customer satisfaction drives the quality of the product,” Catt said. “School boards are not just accountable to the state, but also to the parents. This is why parental satisfaction is so important. And when parents are offered choice, they are more satisfied.”

Many parents are able to take advantage of the state’s school choice program. According to Rhinesmith, a Ph.D. candidate and doctoral academy fellow at the University of Arkansas, Indiana’s school voucher program in 2011 had just under 4,000 students statewide. It’s now up to 32,000 students.

“Now, [parents] are able to enroll [their children] in a private school they perceived had the characteristic they were looking for,” Rhinesmith said. “Religious education is very important.”

Next Step: ESAs

Paul E. Peterson—director of the Program on Education Policy and Governance at Harvard University, a senior fellow at the Hoover Institution, and editor-in-chief of Education Next—says education savings accounts (ESAs) would improve impoverished people’s satisfaction with their children’s education. ESAs allow parents to use a portion of the money allotted to their child in a public school on educational alternatives, such as private school tuition, tutoring, or textbooks. 

“In the suburbs, it’s easier to move from one school to another or from one district to another,” Peterson said. “But in the city, it’s not as easy to move from one neighborhood to another, and it’s sometimes even harder to find a good district. Poor people are not generally satisfied with their schools because they don’t have many options of finding a different school without moving or buying a new house in a different district. ESAs would provide more opportunities for poor people to be satisfied with the schools their children attend.”

Peterson says the education establishment is responsible for limiting education satisfaction.

“Teachers unions, school districts, and powerful, deeply entrenched school boards that have been around for a long time are other factors which limit consumer satisfaction,” Peterson said.   

Kenneth Artz ([email protected]) writes from Dallas, Texas.