Voucher program gets outsized share of K-12 funding increase

Students who receive tuition vouchers to attend private religious schools will get nearly 10 percent of the K-12 education funding increase that Indiana lawmakers included in the 2017-19 state budget.

That’s an outsized share given that voucher students make up only about 3.5 percent of the students who receive funding from the state.

Per-pupil funding is less for voucher students than for public school students – voucher students get either 90 percent or 50 percent of the money that would otherwise go to the public schools where they live, depending on family income. But total funding for vouchers will increase because the number of voucher students is expected to continue to grow while public school enrollment is flat.

Projections in school funding data provided by the House Republican caucus show the number of voucher students increasing by over 10 percent in the next two years.

Indiana’s voucher program started small in 2011 but has grown rapidly as new pathways were added. It is now possible for nearly any child from a low-to-middle-income family to qualify by first being awarded a tuition scholarship from a state-approved scholarship granting organization.

The state is spending $146 million on vouchers this school year. The cost is projected to increase to $156.6 million next year and $167.4 million the following year.

That’s a total of $32 million in new state funding for vouchers – or 9.2 percent of the $345 million in new money that the budget allocates for K-12 funding in the next two years. Total voucher spending remains a small fraction of the K-12 budget, but vouchers get a sizeable share of the increase.

Legislators insist there just isn’t enough money available to provide public schools with more than a paltry increase in funding. They could offer more if they hadn’t created an entitlement program for private religious education and chosen not to rein in the voucher program’s growth.

They also found money to boost the maximum value of tax credits awarded for contributions to scholarship granting organizations from the current $7.5 million to $12.5 million in 2017-18 and $14 million in following years. That can be expected to open the door to vouchers for more students, which will mean there’s less money to support public schools. And so the cycle continues. 

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