01/29/14 Enrollment in Indiana’s Choice Scholarship Program-commonly known as vouchers- has risen to nearly 20,000 participants in only three years. In the first year (2011-12 school year) of the program that extends vouchers to eligible families to provide financial help in enrolling their children in non-public schools there were 3,911 students in the program and a mere 241 schools participating. By the second year (2012-13 school year), the numbers of students had nearly tripled going to 9,139 with only a modest rise in the number of schools going to 289.
However, this school year, the number of students receiving vouchers has risen to nearly 20,000 (19,809). The number of participating schools is only 313. There were some 5,000 newly eligible students because of new rulings allowing siblings of those already on a voucher to bypass the two semester requirement of attending public schools first; qualifying special education students; and those who would have would have had to attend an F-rated school.
The Indiana Choice Scholarship Program was passed as a part of the House Enrolled Act 1003-2011 (Public Law 92-2011). The first year (2011-12 school year) was limited to 7,500 students. The next year (2012-13 school year) was limited to 15,000 students. This school year, the cap was removed and vouchers were available to any student that met eligibility and income requirements.
Vouchers are paid per student, leaving many school corporations with a large loss in revenue. According to state records, the voucher program has shifted $81 million from public schools to private and charter schools.
Fortunately, Marshall County has seen very little impact. St. Michael in Plymouth is the only school in the entire county participating in the voucher program. There were 49 vouchers that have been approved in the county and all are extended to students who live in the Plymouth Community School Corporation district (PCSC).
However, many of these students may have already been enrolled in St. Michael prior to the voucher program. Plymouth Schools Superintendent, Daniel Tyree, said, “We have always had a good working relationship with St. Michael.” He added, “The overall enrollment for PCSC is way up, so a few vouchers going to the private school doesn’t have a large impact.”
Tyree said, “The low number of vouchers in the area is a credit to the schools in Marshall County that do an outstanding job in educating students.”
Urban school corporations like the Ft. Wayne Community Schools are feeling an overwhelming loss in revenue. This year they saw a 142 percent jump in the number of students opting for a non-public placement going to
2,786. During the 2012-0213 school year, that number was at 1,149. The financial loss is nearly $16 million or the equivalent of the salaries of 225 teachers.
Beginning with the 2013-14 school year, income eligibility for the 50 percent award was expanded to 200 percent of the amount set for qualifying for the federal free and reduced lunch program.
Carol Anders Correspondent