Voucher growth levels off

The number of students who received private school vouchers in Indiana leveled off last year, marking a possible end to voucher program’s steady growth.

Students enrolled in the program at the start of the 2019-20 school year declined slightly from the previous year. But the state added a second signup period, and some students enrolled late, resulting in a slight increase.

Cover page of voucher reportAccording an Indiana Department of Education report, 36,707 students received vouchers last year. That’s a little over 3% of the state’s K-12 students.

Indiana awarded $172.8 million in vouchers in 2019-20, up from $161.4 million the previous year. Over the program’s nine-year history, state spending for private school vouchers has now topped $1 billion.

A few highlights from the 2019-20 state voucher report:

  • Voucher students received taxpayer-funded tuition assistance to attend 326 private schools, down from 329 the previous year. Nearly all the voucher schools are religious schools.
  • Nearly 1,600 families – 7.1% of families whose children received vouchers – earned more than $100,000 a year.
  • Over 60% of voucher students had not previously attended an Indiana public school, the highest percentage in program history.
  • Only 11.8% of voucher students identified as African American, while 56.9% were white, a high percentage given that the program skews to “urban” districts.
  • 2,300 students received a voucher for 70% of the cost of attending a local public school, an intermediate voucher created by the legislature in 2019.

Indiana’s voucher program was created in 2011 under then Gov. Mitch Daniels. Initially, students had to attend a public school for two semesters to qualify. But that requirement was dropped as the program expanded. Now there are multiple ways to qualify, including having a sibling who received a voucher or having received a private school scholarship from a state-sanctioned organization.

Initially sold as a way to help underprivileged children escape “failing” public schools, the program evolved into a costly state subsidy for religious education.

Students can be awarded a voucher if their family income is less than 150% of the cutoff to qualify for reduced-price school lunch. Once they qualify, they remain eligible if family income rises to 200% of the reduced-lunch level. For a family of five, that’s $111,629 a year, about double Indiana’s median household income.

6 thoughts on “Voucher growth levels off

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