Research & Commentary: Indiana School Choice Parental Satisfaction Should Lead to More School Choice

Published July 11, 2016

The Friedman Foundation for Educational Choice has released an expanded follow-up study to a 2014 report examining why Indiana parents choose to take advantage of the state’s Choice Scholarship Program voucher and use it to send their children to private schools. Over 2,000 private-school parents took part in the latest survey, with 1,185 of them either using the Choice Scholarship Program or the Tax Credits for Educational Expenses tax-credit scholarship program. Forty-nine percent of the respondents to Friedman’s previous survey also took part in the new survey.

Fifty-three percent of respondents were either very (29 percent) or somewhat (24 percent) satisfied with the public schools they were leaving behind. By contrast, 93 percent of school-choice parents were either very (81 percent) or somewhat (12 percent) satisfied with their child’s private school. While academic considerations were important in factoring in why parents decided to choose a private school—20 percent said it was the most important reason—39 percent said the most important factor in choosing their private school was the school’s “religious environment/instruction.”

An additional 19 percent of respondents said the most important reason for choosing their private school was “morals/character/values instruction.” A total of 19 percent said the lack of religious/moral instruction available at their child’s public school was the main reason for leaving, higher than the 15 percent who said the lack of academic quality was the primary reason.

“Taken together, these results indicate that parents are leaving public schools because they are not the best fit for their children,” wrote the study’s authors. “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 … When comparing school choice parents to non-choice parents, it can be seen that a higher proportion of school choice parents see religious environment/instruction as the most important reason they choose their private school, while non-choice parents place a slightly stronger emphasis than choice parents on better academics and smaller classes.”

Private-school choice programs also seem to be having beneficial effects on parents as well, and this in turn filters down to their children. A majority of parents reported becoming more involved with their child’s education since they moved the student to a private school. Sixty-nine percent said they have had more communication with teachers; 67 percent said they have participated more in school activities; 61 percent have done more volunteer and community services; and 56 percent have spent more time helping their children with math and arithmetic. This increased degree of parental attentiveness is important, because when parents are more engaged in their child’s schooling, it has a strong effect on the child’s level of achievement.

As shown by the results of this survey, school choice offers families equal access to high-quality schools that meet their widely diverse needs and desires. Instead of unjustly condemning millions of children to failing and dangerous schools because their parents cannot afford to pay private school tuition rates, vouchers give all families a greater opportunity to meet each child’s unique education needs. Vouchers also end the injustice of forcing parents to pay both taxes and tuition in order to exercise school choice.

“Limiting choice solely to neighborhood public schools,” the authors write, “would leave many parents not fully satisfied because they cannot access the best educational fit for their children,” including the best fit for their moral and religious instruction. “Making sure parents are as satisfied as possible should be the policy when providing an education, not limiting them to enroll their children in schools that are going to provide a less than complete education in the parents’ eyes.”

Based on the parental satisfaction shown in these surveys, Indiana lawmakers should consider turning the Choice Scholarship Program into a universal voucher program. The goal should be to allow every parent to choose, require every school to compete, and give every child an opportunity to attend a quality school.

The following documents provide more information on school vouchers, school choice, and education reform.

Why Parents Choose: A Survey of Private School and School Choice Parents in Indiana
This Friedman Foundation for Educational Choice survey is a follow up to the Why Indiana Voucher Parents Choose Private Schools, published in 2014. Over 2,000 private school parents took part in the latest survey. Forty-nine percent of the respondents to Friedman’s previous survey also took part in the new survey. The overwhelming majority of respondents were satisfied with their child’s new private school, indicating the Hoosier State’s school-choice programs are accomplishing their goal of matching students with schools that are more likely to fit their needs.

Ten Principles of School Choice
Since the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in 2002 school vouchers are constitutional, grassroots activists around the country have been organizing to support the creation of school choice programs. Legislatures passed statewide programs in Colorado and Florida, and other states are expected to follow their lead. At least 35 cities have privately funded voucher programs. This booklet from The Heartland Institute provides policymakers and civic and business leaders with a highly condensed and easy-to-read guide to the debate. It presents the 10 most important principles of the school choice movement, explaining each principle in plain and precise language. It also contains an extensive bibliography for further research, including many links to documents available on the internet, and a directory of the websites of national organizations that support school choice.

A Win-Win Solution: The Empirical Evidence on School Choice (Fourth Edition)
This paper by the Friedman Foundation for Educational Choice details how a vast body of research shows educational choice programs improve academic outcomes for students and schools, saves taxpayers money, reduces segregation in schools, and improves students’ civic values. This edition brings together a total of 100 empirical studies examining these essential questions in one comprehensive report.

The ABCs of School Choice – 2016 Edition—2016-edition
The ABCs of School Choice, produced by the Friedman Foundation for Educational Choice, is a comprehensive, data-rich guide to every private school choice program in America. This annually updated publication may not reflect developments past January 25, 2016.

Taking Credit for Education: How to Fund Education Savings Accounts Through Tax Credits
This paper from the Cato Institute explains how legislators can design an education savings account (ESA) program that is privately funded through tax-credit-eligible contributions from taxpayers, which is similar to models used in many tax-credit scholarship programs around the country. Tax-credit-funded ESAs would empower families with more educational options while enhancing accountability and refraining from coercing anyone into supporting ideas they oppose. Because they are funded through voluntary contributions rather than public funds, tax-credit scholarships have a perfect record of constitutionality at the U.S. Supreme Court and at every state supreme court that has considered the issue. In states that have adopted a Blaine amendment, tax-credit ESAs could be a lifeline to families in need.

Pursuing Innovation: How Can Education Choice Transform K–12 Education in the U.S.?
This report by the Friedman Foundation for Educational Choice summarizes the state of competition in U.S. K–12 education. It pays particular attention to the prevalence and market penetration of charter schools, private school vouchers, and tax-credit scholarships. The effect of competition from charters, vouchers, and tax-credit scholarships on the performance of traditional district schools and education funding is examined using a survey of recent high-quality research on that topic. These summaries and analyses suggest enhancing educational competition using school choice programs would likely improve the productivity of district schools, subject to the effective design of school choice policies.

The Legal Landscape of Parental-Choice Policy
The U.S. Supreme Court decision in Zelman v. Simmons-Harris cleared away the most significant obstacle to the expansion of private school choice programs by ruling the First Amendment’s Establishment Clause does not preclude faith-based schools from participating in private school choice programs. These programs raise other important legal questions, which fall into four categories: the scope of students’ rights to an education and parents’ rights to choose their children’s schools; state constitutional obstacles to private school choice; the effect of laws governing racial integration and the inclusion of disabled students; and the religious liberty implications of faith-based schools participating in such programs. The American Enterprise Institute (AEI) writes the lack of clarity on these questions poses challenges, but AEI also says these questions create opportunities for proponents of private school choice to scale up existing programs and expand program options.

The Fiscal Effects of School Choice Programs on Public School Districts
In the first-ever study of public school districts’ fixed costs in every state and Washington, DC, Benjamin Scafidi concludes approximately 36 percent of school district spending cannot be quickly reduced when students leave. The remaining 64 percent, or approximately $8,000 per student on average, are variable costs, changing directly with student enrollment. This means a school choice program attaching less than $8,000 to each child who leaves a public school for a private school actually leaves the district with more money to spend on each remaining child. In the long run, Scafidi notes, all local district spending is variable, meaning all funds could be attached to individual children over time without creating fiscal problems for government schools.

How School Choice Programs Can Save Money 
This Heritage Foundation study of the fiscal impact of voucher programs notes Washington, DC vouchers cost only 60 percent of what the city spends per pupil in government schools. The study estimates if the states with the top eight education expenditures per pupil adopted voucher programs similar to the Washington, DC program, they could save a combined $2.6 billion per year.

Study Finds School Vouchers Boost College Enrollment for African Americans by 24%
In an experimental study examining the long-term outcomes of school voucher programs, Matthew M. Chingos and Paul E. Peterson found the percentage of African-American students who enrolled part-time or full-time in college by 2011 was 24 percent higher for those who had won a school voucher lottery while in elementary school and used the voucher to attend a private school.


Nothing in this Research & Commentary is intended to influence the passage of legislation, and it does not necessarily represent the views of The Heartland Institute. For further information on this subject, visit School Reform News at, The Heartland Institute’s website at, and PolicyBot, Heartland’s free online research database, at

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