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Indiana's private school voucher plan could take 1/3 of education funding boost

The private school voucher changes approved by the House this week would raise income eligibility for a family of four from the current roughly $96,000 a year to about $145,000 in 2022.

Posted: Feb 18, 2021 7:05 PM

INDIANAPOLIS (AP) — More than one-third of the proposed state funding hike for Indiana schools could go toward the state’s private school voucher program under a Republican-backed plan that could boost the program’s cost by nearly 50% over the next two years.

The estimated $144 million cost for the voucher expansion and a new program allowing parents to directly spend state money on their child’s education expenses is included in legislative budget projections — but is more than double what House Republicans discussed in releasing their state budget plan last week.

Republicans tout their proposal as giving parents more choices over how to educate their children, while Democrats and other opponents argue that it further drains funding from traditional school districts while they are struggling to find ways to boost the state’s lagging teacher pay.

Overall, House Republicans propose increasing the base funding for K-12 schools by 1.25% during the first year and 2.5% in the second year of the new budget that would start in July. That would mean about $378 million more for total school funding over the two years — with about $200 million going to traditional public schools that have about 1 million students.

“Lawmakers are prioritizing expanding school choice that benefits a small percentage of students in Indiana, and it’s at the detriment of adequate funding for public education,” said Terry Spradlin, the Indiana School Boards Association’s executive director.

Three former state education superintendents have additionally spoken out against expansion plans which they say divert “adequate and equitable funding” away from public schools and open the door to “unacceptable practices.”

The private school voucher changes approved by the House this week would raise income eligibility for a family of four from the current roughly $96,000 a year to about $145,000 in 2022. It also would allow all those students to receive the full voucher amount, rather than the current tiered system that limits full vouchers to such families with incomes of about $48,000.

Those changes are projected to boost voucher program participation by some 12,000 students, or 34%, over the next two years after the enrollment has remained steady around 35,000 the past four years, according to state education department reports. The program’s cost would go from about $174 million this school year to $256 million in two years.

The Republican mantra has been that “money follows the child” and that the state should “fund students, not school systems.”

“The one thing that we’ve heard loud and clear from our constituents and many others is that families need choices, the pandemic has highlighted that, to find the right place for their kids to have the best academic experience and that’s what this budget focuses on,” Republican House Speaker Todd Huston said.

The voucher expansion isn’t likely to induce a “mass exodus” of students from public schools, said Betsy Wiley, president of Institute for Quality Education, an advocacy group that backs Indiana’s charter school and private school voucher programs. But after five to 10 years of voucher expansion, Wiley’s confident that “increasing numbers of Hoosier families, currently trapped in an educational model that isn’t ideal for their children,” will use the opportunity to move schools.

Republicans also propose creating a new program they’ve dubbed education savings accounts providing 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 military or are veterans, would also for the stipends.

Parents could choose to use the money to pay for tuition, or for other education expenses like tutoring, therapy or technological devices. That program could cost $19 million for some 3,200 students.

Another change backed by House Republicans would remove the current per-pupil funding cap for students who take at least half their classes virtually at 85% of full in-person student funding. That cap was instituted under reasoning that all-virtual education costs less without the expenses such as school buildings, but the proposed budget would give virtual students full funding at an annual estimated cost of $14.5 million.

“We want the dollars to follow the child to where the parents have chosen to enroll their children, and that’s in public education,” Spradlin said. “This is not what the governor called for, and it certainly won’t help us maintain forward momentum and progress on teacher pay.”

Republican Gov. Eric Holcomb hasn’t fully embraced the voucher program expansion. In his State of the State speech last month, he said more school options “shouldn’t come at the expense of the public school system, which educates 90% of Hoosier children.”

Holcomb said Wednesday he supported school choice options and suggested a voucher expansion could happen as part of an overall school funding increase.

“We can do a couple things at the same time and meet parents where their demand is,” Holcomb said.

Indiana Coronavirus Cases

Data is updated nightly.

Cases: 708779

Reported Deaths: 13226
CountyCasesDeaths
Marion966191721
Lake51761946
Allen39224672
Hamilton34549405
St. Joseph34157541
Elkhart27356432
Vanderburgh22081394
Tippecanoe21853212
Porter17935299
Johnson17544374
Hendricks16822310
Clark12697190
Madison12353337
Vigo12219244
Monroe11469166
LaPorte11162204
Delaware10366184
Howard9664211
Kosciusko9134114
Hancock7990139
Bartholomew7893155
Warrick7691155
Floyd7563176
Wayne6906198
Grant6844171
Boone6556100
Morgan6405138
Dubois6085117
Marshall5786108
Dearborn570376
Cass5685102
Henry5579101
Noble542683
Jackson493569
Shelby479495
Lawrence4342118
Gibson429089
Harrison428570
Clinton419753
Montgomery418086
DeKalb411184
Whitley380239
Huntington379880
Miami372865
Knox366689
Steuben365757
Putnam353160
Jasper350946
Wabash347878
Adams338052
Ripley334668
Jefferson313180
White308454
Daviess289499
Wells286481
Decatur279092
Fayette277262
Greene270785
Posey268833
Scott261153
LaGrange253670
Clay253544
Randolph235680
Washington231031
Spencer228031
Jennings225047
Fountain208845
Sullivan207942
Starke204752
Owen192356
Fulton192039
Jay186429
Carroll185920
Perry180736
Orange177853
Rush170724
Vermillion166043
Franklin165635
Tipton161043
Parke144616
Blackford133831
Pike130334
Pulaski113845
Newton104234
Brown100140
Crawford97614
Benton97113
Martin82915
Warren79715
Switzerland7698
Union69910
Ohio55811
Unassigned0408

Ohio Coronavirus Cases

Data is updated nightly.

Cases: 1054807

Reported Deaths: 18991
CountyCasesDeaths
Franklin1225191356
Cuyahoga1074592069
Hamilton783261168
Montgomery50176996
Summit45557909
Lucas40298765
Butler37768570
Stark31513895
Lorain24246473
Warren23910293
Mahoning20946583
Lake20067362
Clermont19459229
Delaware18085130
Licking16149207
Fairfield15757197
Trumbull15627460
Medina14922259
Greene14706236
Clark13660293
Wood12806185
Portage12431196
Allen11352229
Richland11067198
Miami10548214
Muskingum8717127
Wayne8594209
Columbiana8569226
Pickaway8439121
Marion8390135
Tuscarawas8387240
Erie7600154
Hancock6730123
Ross6707146
Geauga6553146
Ashtabula6530165
Scioto6295101
Belmont5634158
Union558447
Lawrence5470102
Jefferson5343147
Huron5314114
Darke5273121
Sandusky5189120
Seneca5139120
Washington5087107
Athens503856
Auglaize476284
Mercer471984
Shelby456590
Knox4397108
Madison423959
Putnam421799
Ashland413488
Fulton410567
Defiance404296
Crawford3883101
Brown386955
Logan374476
Preble371098
Clinton362160
Ottawa357978
Highland347459
Williams328674
Champaign321557
Jackson308551
Guernsey307549
Perry290549
Fayette278048
Morrow275939
Hardin264764
Henry264366
Coshocton259857
Holmes253499
Van Wert239262
Pike233831
Gallia233446
Adams229152
Wyandot227553
Hocking209759
Carroll189447
Paulding168838
Meigs141738
Noble132937
Monroe128941
Morgan106823
Harrison105636
Vinton81614
Unassigned02
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Significantly cold air settles in across northeast Indiana and northwest Ohio Tuesday night.
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