Indiana lawmakers push for school choice, private school voucher expansion

Amid contention over how Hoosier students should receive instruction during the ongoing coronavirus pandemic, Republican lawmakers are prioritizing a bill that would expand the number of stipends available to use on private school education at taxpayers’ expense.

Posted: Jan 30, 2021 6:10 PM

INDIANAPOLIS (AP) — Amid contention over how Hoosier students should receive instruction during the ongoing coronavirus pandemic, Republican lawmakers are prioritizing a bill that would expand the number of stipends available to use on private school education at taxpayers’ expense.

The House bill would open eligibility for state vouchers to more students from middle-income families, raising income eligibility for a family of four up to about $110,000 per year in 2022, and a little more than $145,000 by 2023.

The income bar exceeds the maximum amount allowed for a student to qualify for the federal free or reduced-price lunch program by 225% in 2022, and 300% the following year.

It’s also nearly double Indiana’s median income for families, which is about $74,000 per year.

Income tiers within the program would additionally be eliminated, awarding all participating students the maximum award — 90% of the amount the state would have provided to their public district.

The most costly expenditure in the legislation would create education savings accounts that provide grants to parents of children with special needs to spend on their education.

Students in foster care, as well as some whose parents are serving in the armed forces or are veterans, would qualify for the stipends, too.

The savings accounts would be more generous than vouchers, providing the full amount the state would otherwise spend on a student’s schooling.

Parents could choose to use the money to pay for tuition, or for other education expenses like tutoring, therapy or technological devices.

The measure builds on the state’s robust private school voucher program — one of the most expensive in the country — which served some 37,000 students from low- and middle-income families during the last academic year.

Roughly 38,000 newly eligible students are expected to make the switch from a traditional school corporation if the program expansion passes, according to the Legislative Services Agency.

Another 12,000 students who already attend participating private schools, but don’t currently qualify for state aid, would also become eligible for funding.

“The overall policy is money should follow the child, to where that child is being educated,” House Speaker Todd Huston said. “The pandemic has made clear the importance of providing a range of options.”

The widespread use of online learning over the past year also has the leader of the Republican-dominated Indiana House advocating for giving full-time virtual schools the same state funding as traditional ones.

Huston said Thursday he has long supported giving virtual schools the same per-student funding as traditional public schools and expected the House budget plan that’s being prepared would provide 100% funding for virtual school students starting next fall.

Because the pandemic has also forced parents to be more engaged in their children’s’ education, there’s increased interest in non-public schooling options, said Betsy Wiley, president of the advocacy group Institute for Quality Education, which backs Indiana’s charter school and private school voucher programs.

“I think this bill provides more families in Indiana an opportunity to access the schools that they may not be able to access, but want to,” Wiley said. “A number of our private schools have been able to be open the whole time during the pandemic and provide for in-person learning. Families are saying they have different wants now, and so school choice and the ability to make those decisions has never been in greater demand than it is now.”

But critics say that growing the state’s voucher program drains money from traditional public schools, and argue that funds provided to private schools means less state oversight.

“We’d be taking thousands of kids who are already currently funded, currently paid for, and put them on the state’s obligation,” said Democratic Rep. Ed DeLaney, a member of the House Education Committee. “When we give these voucher schools money, we don’t control them, which is truly unique. We don’t run those schools, we don’t approve the principals, the citizens don’t vote for them. We only have an obligation to pay.”

The voucher program cost the state about $173 million last school year. If expanded under the legislation, taxpayers would be on the hook for an additional $108 million in the next fiscal year, and another $93 million in 2023.

The state’s expenditure increase would eventually decline to roughly $80 million annually after about five years.

Officials further estimate that public school revenue from state tuition support would decrease by upwards of $80 million by 2023 — a result of students moving to non-public schools by way of vouchers.

“Any dollar that goes to these outside, so-called school choice options is one dollar that would have otherwise gone to public education,” DeLaney said. “This is just one more attempt to tear down the traditional public schools at a moment of particular weakness.”

The bill is scheduled to be heard Wednesday by the House Education Committee and is expected to receive a vote for advancement to the full chamber.

Indiana Coronavirus Cases

Data is updated nightly.

Cases: 704632

Reported Deaths: 13211
CountyCasesDeaths
Marion961411718
Lake51322943
Allen39040670
Hamilton34368405
St. Joseph33865539
Elkhart27197431
Vanderburgh22050394
Tippecanoe21725212
Johnson17475374
Porter17240298
Hendricks16754310
Clark12663190
Madison12321337
Vigo12172244
Monroe11417166
LaPorte10841204
Delaware10325184
Howard9629211
Kosciusko9098113
Hancock7954139
Bartholomew7867155
Warrick7680155
Floyd7543176
Wayne6887198
Grant6773171
Boone6524100
Morgan6379138
Dubois6074117
Marshall5770108
Dearborn568576
Cass5678102
Henry5569100
Noble539383
Jackson492869
Shelby478295
Lawrence4336118
Gibson427789
Harrison427570
Clinton417753
Montgomery417286
DeKalb407984
Huntington377480
Whitley376339
Miami371765
Knox365789
Steuben363357
Putnam352360
Jasper347546
Wabash347377
Adams337852
Ripley333468
Jefferson312180
White307854
Daviess289399
Wells285581
Decatur278592
Fayette277162
Greene270485
Posey268433
Scott260853
Clay253044
LaGrange252170
Randolph234680
Washington230631
Spencer227531
Jennings224747
Fountain208245
Sullivan207542
Starke202652
Owen191956
Fulton190939
Jay185829
Carroll185620
Perry179736
Orange176753
Rush170624
Vermillion165943
Franklin165635
Tipton160943
Parke144316
Blackford133331
Pike130234
Pulaski113245
Newton103034
Brown99740
Crawford97514
Benton96413
Martin82515
Warren79315
Switzerland7698
Union69710
Ohio55711
Unassigned0408

Ohio Coronavirus Cases

Data is updated nightly.

Cases: 1050112

Reported Deaths: 18991
CountyCasesDeaths
Franklin1219281356
Cuyahoga1067232069
Hamilton780741168
Montgomery49976996
Summit45252909
Lucas39984765
Butler37678570
Stark31385895
Lorain24111473
Warren23864293
Mahoning20869583
Lake19963362
Clermont19423229
Delaware18002130
Licking16109207
Fairfield15676197
Trumbull15553460
Medina14839259
Greene14643236
Clark13602293
Wood12733185
Portage12353196
Allen11312229
Richland11025198
Miami10525214
Muskingum8702127
Wayne8556209
Columbiana8535226
Pickaway8429121
Tuscarawas8370240
Marion8365135
Erie7554154
Hancock6694123
Ross6693146
Geauga6532146
Ashtabula6470165
Scioto6286101
Belmont5610158
Union557447
Lawrence5465102
Jefferson5303147
Huron5298114
Darke5268121
Sandusky5171120
Seneca5108120
Washington5073107
Athens500656
Auglaize475184
Mercer471184
Shelby455890
Knox4380108
Madison421559
Putnam420799
Ashland412688
Fulton409167
Defiance400896
Crawford3866101
Brown386055
Logan372876
Preble369898
Clinton360560
Ottawa356578
Highland346359
Williams324974
Champaign319257
Jackson307951
Guernsey306149
Perry289649
Fayette277348
Morrow274639
Hardin264164
Henry263566
Coshocton258857
Holmes253099
Van Wert238862
Gallia233346
Pike232931
Adams227852
Wyandot226953
Hocking208959
Carroll189147
Paulding168638
Meigs141538
Noble132837
Monroe128841
Morgan106623
Harrison105236
Vinton81414
Unassigned02
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