More data that suggest vouchers cost Indiana

Here’s more evidence the Indiana school voucher program is costing the state money: The number of families attending private schools without vouchers has dropped dramatically since the state expanded the program, while the number of voucher students has exploded.

This suggests that many families who are receiving vouchers never intended to send their kids to public schools – they had or would have chosen private schools regardless, and they’re merely taking advantage of the voucher program to get free or reduced-cost tuition.

According to a report on the program released in June by the Indiana Department of Education, there were 71,415 non-voucher students enrolled in Indiana private schools in 2012-13. By last year, the number had dropped to 55,385.

That’s a 22 percent drop in paying customers in only two years. Either an awful lot of families who could afford private school are deciding it’s not such a good deal and they’re sending their children to public schools. Or a lot of families who had already chosen private schools are getting vouchers.

Meanwhile, the two-year decline of 16,030 in the number of students who are paying full freight for private schools corresponded with a 20,008 increase in the number of students receiving vouchers. Over one-third of Indiana private-school students received vouchers in 2014-15, according to the DOE report.

If voucher students would otherwise be attending Indiana public schools, the program would save the state money, because vouchers are for less than the full cost of educating a student at a public school. But if the students would be attending private schools with or without vouchers, the program costs the state money, because it increases the number of students receiving a state-funded education.

Voucher supporters, including House Education Committee chairman Bob Behning and the advocacy group Hoosiers for Quality Education, argue the students would be in public schools if not for vouchers. They take issue with the $40 million price tag that the Department of Education puts on the program.

But you can look at the data and conclude they’re probably mistaken. Or you can do what Claire McInerny of NPR State Impact Indiana did and ask a private school about its students.

“A lot of them were already here but they qualified for vouchers so they went on the voucher program,” Matt Fenton, school administrator of Community Baptist Christian School in South Bend, told her. “Over time as we’ve advertised on the website, we’ve said we’re a voucher school and other families have been able to take advantage of that.”

And it has become pretty easy to take advantage of the program. Any student who qualifies by family income could get a voucher. All it takes is for the school to secure support for the child for one year from a “scholarship granting organization.” Then the child permanently qualifies for vouchers.

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