March 7, 2023

Ryan Mishler: An Open Letter to District 9 on Voucher Schools

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Ryan Mishler is an Indiana State Senator, a GOP official who was a school voucher supporter. In an extraordinary open letter, he explained why he has come to feel “buyer’s remorse” over his voucher support.

In one incident, after “tweaking” the voucher program to suit them, a private school was brought to his attention for a bizarre incident in which a student athlete was suspended from five games for kissing a girl. Where, Mishler wondered, was the due process, or proportional reaction?

About a year later, I ran into a parent who expressed their worry about how a student was being treated by a staff member. Over several months, many more contacted me with the same concern, regarding the same staff member and student. I discovered the staff member was previously fired for similar behavior at a public school. I felt I could go directly to this staff member in question to resolve the issue. During this meeting, I shared the information the parents brought to me, and the first comment made was, “I don’t care what parents think,” a worrisome start to the conversation. I mentioned we all make mistakes, but we need to learn from them, and correct our behavior. I was basically given the “there is nothing you can do about it” attitude.

After asking the parents how they wanted to proceed, Mishler set a meeting with school administration. It did not go well.

The meeting consisted of myself, the principal, and one other administrator. There, I shared the parent’s concerns again, as I had voiced them previously to the principal over the phone. They claimed it was the first they had heard of anything and that they didn’t understand why no one had come forward. When I mentioned the family that had brought forward the concerns, they admitted to meeting with them, and had some less-than-kind words to say about the family. I guess they didn’t count. I asked if they knew about the incident with the staff member in question at the previous school. The answer was yes.

I asked what procedures they had put in place so that the previous incident might not happen again. Their answer was they didn’t have to because it was public knowledge. At this point in the conversation, the other administrator in the room unloaded. I haven’t been spoken to like that in my twenty years of representing my community. Now, I did throw a few choice words back. The overall attitude seemed to be, who are you to interfere with our business. I must admit that I was very disturbed! I can see why the parents were so uncomfortable to come forward and speak with administration. This school received $2.87 million dollars in state tuition subsidy last year. That alone gave me every right to ask the questions. Plus, I had an obligation to those families I represent who turned to me when their children were being bullied and mistreated.

A few more incidents with other schools, and the penny finally dropped for Mishler.

What really surprised me most is that it had been made public that some of these organizations had been abusing kids for over 50 years. One would think this kind of history would lead to these allegations being taken seriously and followed up on, but no such reform occurred. Now, I understand how they got away with that kind of behavior for so many years! Upon discovering there is no accountability for these schools, I began working with the chairman of the Senate Education Committee to help me put some procedures in place. I made a pledge to those parents that I would not support one additional dollar spent on the voucher program until there are policies put in place that protect these kids from abusive behavior and mistreatment. This is the most disgusting situation I have encountered in my 20 years in the Senate. I am appalled that this behavior continues to happen repeatedly.

I have worked with public schools from all over the state. When issues have come up, the administrators have always been proactive, looking into the matters brought into question, and responding promptly. That is the leadership that I am accustomed to and expect to see in the institutions responsible for instructing our children.

Turns out that the free market and voting with your feet don’t provide all that much accountability. Read the whole letter here. 

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