Voucher program growing – and changing

Indiana’s school voucher population is getting whiter, more affluent – and a whole lot bigger. That’s the conclusion to draw from a report on the voucher program released this week by the Indiana Department of Education. A few highlights:

  • More than 29,000 students are getting vouchers, seven times as many as when the program started in 2011-12 and a 46 percent increase from a year ago.
  • 61 percent of voucher students are non-Hispanic white, up from 46 percent in the first year. That’s despite the fact that most voucher enrollment is in urban areas.
  • Only 31 percent of voucher students are African-American or Hispanic, down from 44 percent the first year.
  • Three in 10 are from higher-income families that receive less than the full voucher amount, double the percentage in the first year of the program.

Indiana taxpayers are paying more than $116 million this year for tuition at 314 private schools – nearly all of them religious schools, and almost all of those Christian schools.

And vouchers are going to families that are far from poor.

For a family that makes up to 185 percent of the federal poverty level, students get 90 percent of what it would cost for them to attend the local public school, typically over $5,000 a year. (The amount is currently capped at $4,800 for grades K-8).

Students from families earning up to 277 percent of the poverty level qualify for 50 percent of the cost of attending the local public school. And they don’t lose the vouchers if the family’s income rises, up to 370 percent of poverty.

For a family of four, the income cutoff is $44,123 to qualify for a half-voucher and $66,184 for a full-voucher. By comparison, the median household income in Indiana in 2013 was $48,374, according to census data. In other words, half of all households make more than that and half make less.

So vouchers are going to families that most Hoosiers would consider to be pretty well off. Take, for example, a couple with five children and income just under $100,000. If one child attends a public school for a year, all the siblings qualify for vouchers. They keep getting vouchers even if the family’s income rises to $130,000 a year.

That adds up to $14,000 in public tuition benefits for a family that makes nearly three times the median state household income.

Gov. Mitch Daniels and state Superintendent Tony Bennett sold the voucher program in 2011 as a way to help poor children escape failing public schools. Initially, students were generally required to spend a year in a public school to qualify for a voucher. Daniels said that was a key part of the program’s design – that parents should give public schools a chance before giving up on them.

But in 2013, new Gov. Mike Pence and Republican super-majorities in the House and Senate opened the doors wide. Now students qualify for vouchers if they live in the attendance area of a school that got an F on the state grading system, if a sibling had a voucher, or if they qualify for special education.

More than half of the students receiving vouchers this year have never attended a public school, according to the Department of Education report.

As Indiana State Teachers Association President Teresa Meredith told Chalkbeat Indiana, “The most expansive voucher program in America has become an entitlement program which, in large part, now benefits middle class families who always intended to send their children to private schools.”

Meanwhile Pence and the legislature are moving to eliminate the $4,800 cap on vouchers. And the budget approved by the Indiana House anticipates the voucher program will keep growing rate, with its cost surpassing $173 million by 2017.

14 thoughts on “Voucher program growing – and changing

  1. I have absolutely no problem with tax money paid for education to follow the student to the school of their choice. I do have a problem in the notion that I would have to contribute money for schools that I had no interest in using. Furthermore, it’s insulting that the state has determined the value of a private school education ( especially Christian) is less than public school therefore paying less money in vouchers than the cost of a student in public schools.
    Apparently, the high quality of education at a Catholic school that actually SAVES taxpayer funding isn’t an issue you want to reward !!
    student attending a public school is higher than

      • “An Indiana Department of Education report released this week shows a nearly 50 percent increase in voucher participation this year. The total cost increased from $78.9 million in 2013-14 to $116 million this year. Increased participation wiped out the so-called savings voucher supporters promised would come from educating students at voucher rates less than the per-pupil tuition payments at some public schools”.

  2. I’m not opposed to private schools. I am, however, opposed to using my tax dollars so that children can attend a private school and having public schools suffer. I’m also opposed to using different metrics to measure schools. I’m so disappointed in the Indiana legislature. They have put politics above children. I’m not an educator…neither are the people making all these decisions. Let teachers teach. They are the experts. Not me and not our politicians.

  3. Also significant, but rarely mentioned, eligibility for the voucher program is based only on income. Our family could have $1 million in assets (retirements accounts, savings, house(s), investment properties, cars, boats, etc) and still qualify for a private school voucher if our current year income were below the middle to upper middle class levels noted in your article. Most private schools, including diocese Catholic high schools such as Ritter and Chatard, request information on both income and assets from their parents. The Indiana school choice program does not. As a result, it is susceptible to being managed by some parents who have some ability to move income from one year to another (self employed, independently wealthy, or others who may not need to rely solely on their current incomd to meet all current expenses). Continuing to grant eligibility for the voucher even though income increases to a still higher level in subsequent years makes that even more possible.

  4. Indianapolis Diocese Catholic High School school funded financial
    aid rules: http://www.bishopchatard.org/business/apply-aid

    (School grants financial aid on a year by year basis. Amounts not guaranteed for subsequent years. Applicants for school funded financial aid are required by the school to also apply for Indiana School
    Choice vouchers and Indiana SGO scholarships by the relevant deadlines for those.)

  5. So, if the state has decided to support “low income” families in providing their children with a private school education, who should go first in funding that education? Parents, to the extent of their ability? The school, and its donors, and in the cases of religious based schools, their members? Or Indiana taxpayers, regardless of their location or the needs of their own community based public schools? This is a discussion that hasn’t occurred, at least publicly.

  6. Vouchers, tax dollars following the student to the school of their choice? Milton Friedman’s dream come true. Who has benefitted from his idea? Take a look at New Orleans, Cleveland & Milwaukee for starters.

  7. Pingback: An open letter to Condoleezza Rice | School Matters

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