Over 1,300 households that participate in Indiana’s school voucher program have incomes over $100,000, according to the 2018-19 voucher report from the Indiana Department of Education.
That puts them in the top 20 percent of Hoosier households by income. So much for the argument that the voucher program, created in 2011, exists to help poor children “trapped” in low-performing schools.
Like previous state reports on the voucher program, the current report paints a picture of a program that primarily promotes religious education and serves tens of thousands of families that could afford private school tuition without help from the taxpayers.
The state is paying $161.4 million to fund the program, which provides vouchers to pay for private-school tuition for students who qualify by family income and other criteria. Some 36,290 students, about 3 percent of Indiana’s school-age population, participate. Nearly all the 329 participating schools are religious schools. Most are Catholic, Lutheran or Evangelical Christian schools.
Fifty-eight percent of voucher students are white, 21 percent are Hispanic and 12 percent are African-American. Given that three of five voucher students come from what the state classifies as “metropolitan” areas, that suggests white students are disproportionately represented.
Supporters say the program isn’t costing Indiana, because it would cost more to educate the students if they attended public schools. But according to the report, 58 percent of voucher students have no record of having attended a public school. Chances are they never would have.
The vouchers cover 90 percent of per-pupil funding for local public schools for families that make less than what’s required to qualify for reduced-price school lunches. They cover 50 percent of the cost for students who make up to twice that amount — $108,854 for a family of five.
The budget approved last month by the Indiana House would create a new category of voucher. It would cover 75 percent of cost of attendance for families making up to 125 percent of the cutoff.
Originally, students were supposed to attend a public school for at least two semesters before opting for the voucher program. But the state has loosened the requirements, creating pathways for siblings, preschool students, students with disabilities, students in F-rated schools and students who were awarded a private-school scholarship of any amount by a “scholarship granting organization.”
Private schools have figured out how to game and promote the system until pretty much any family that meets the generous income requirements can find a way to qualify.