As much as $116 million in public dollars could be funneled to private schools in Indiana this year, the majority of which are affiliated with a religious institution.
Two new reports detail the exponential growth of the state’s school voucher program: One is the annual report issued by the Indiana Department of Education, the other comes from the Center for Evaluation and Education Policy, which is based out of Indiana University’s School of Education.
The IDOE report released Monday lays out the growth in numbers, which had been reported last fall. Nearly 30,000 Indiana students are using vouchers to attend private schools this current school year, a 47 percent increase from last year. While that jump in participation sounds big, it’s actually dwarfed by growth in previous years. Here’s the breakdown of student participation in the four years school vouchers have been available in Indiana:
2012-13—9,139 students (133.7 percent growth)
2013-14—19,809 students (116.8 percent growth)
2014-15—29,148 students (47.1 percent growth)
For perspective though, it’s important to note that district school enrollment for this year is over 1 million students statewide, roughly 34 times the number of students participating in the voucher program.
Indiana has been steadily expanding the voucher program since its creation in 2011—some of the most recent changes include raising the threshold on income eligibility, lifting the participation cap on the program, and opening the program up to students who were already enrolled in private schools. For example, the legislature passed a bill in 2013 making students zoned to schools graded “F” in the state’s accountability system eligible for vouchers even if they had never attended their local public school.
Monday’s report from the IDOE shows that for this current school year, less than 50 percent of students in the voucher program previously attended a public school.
According to numbers first released by the IDOE last June, those alterations to the program cost the state an additional $16 million in the 2013-14 school year, whereas initially vouchers had been saving the state around $4 million a year. Numbers for the 2015-14 school year are scheduled to be released in June.
In total, students were eligible to receive almost $116 million this school year, compared to $81 million last year. However, that doesn’t mean the state will end up paying out that amount. The net voucher payout last year was actually around $78.6 million due in part to private schools refunding the state for students who did not complete the year at their school.
Of the private schools participating in the voucher program, just six percent have no religious affiliation, and of the 94 percent that do, over half are Roman Catholic schools, according to the report from IU’s Center for Evaluation and Education Policy.
Vouchers weathered a legal challenge from the Indiana State Teachers Association in 2013. The state superintendent of schools, Glenda Ritz, was an original plaintiff, but dropped out of the lawsuit once she was elected.
It was after the court’s ruling that the legislature made the most dramatic expansions to the program, and now, according to CEEP, Indiana has some of the least restrictive income-eligibility requirements in the country along with its neighbor, Ohio.
The CEEP report says that in some cases, Indiana students from families making 370 times more than the federal poverty level are eligible for vouchers. Indiana also earned top marks last summer in a state-by-state ranking of voucher programs by the Center for Education Reform, a Washington-based research and advocacy group that supports school choice.
A version of this news article first appeared in the Charters & Choice blog.