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: 1084488

Reported Deaths: 17386
CountyCasesDeaths
Marion1425562217
Lake705171220
Allen64347862
Hamilton49481481
St. Joseph48135639
Elkhart39011536
Vanderburgh33874494
Tippecanoe29863271
Johnson26876463
Hendricks25548379
Porter24683380
Madison20440444
Clark19785275
Vigo18609308
LaPorte16638260
Monroe16237217
Delaware16230286
Howard16181310
Kosciusko13763162
Hancock12644184
Bartholomew12544188
Warrick11889189
Wayne11794264
Floyd11792225
Grant11484233
Morgan10134188
Boone9576120
Noble8921121
Henry8917163
Marshall8792146
Dearborn875798
Dubois8673138
Shelby7958127
Cass7907126
Lawrence7861182
DeKalb7416106
Jackson738093
Huntington7280107
Gibson6922118
Montgomery6830122
Harrison680696
Knox6779113
Steuben641185
Miami6384106
Whitley631160
Putnam626582
Clinton614176
Wabash5958108
Jasper591991
Jefferson5617102
Ripley540892
Adams527881
Daviess4964116
Scott475978
Wells462998
White459967
Greene458399
Clay452162
Decatur4491109
Jennings434666
Fayette429094
LaGrange413890
Posey398344
Washington380654
Randolph3770107
Fountain364962
Spencer353446
Fulton352270
Starke343672
Sullivan342454
Owen341676
Orange320270
Jay315450
Rush293332
Carroll287037
Franklin283544
Perry281453
Vermillion277557
Parke244930
Tipton244664
Pike241744
Blackford213944
Pulaski203158
Newton176552
Brown169850
Crawford167129
Benton160517
Martin149219
Switzerland143712
Warren131416
Union115416
Ohio90513
Unassigned0581

Ohio Coronavirus Cases

Data is updated nightly.

Cases: 1673496

Reported Deaths: 26483
CountyCasesDeaths
Franklin1757641826
Cuyahoga1629012636
Hamilton1118741528
Montgomery791421387
Summit697231199
Lucas615331017
Butler55597803
Stark521611170
Lorain40661639
Warren35239412
Mahoning34821769
Lake31171493
Clermont30541362
Delaware26553182
Trumbull26366611
Licking26095335
Medina25072351
Fairfield24063287
Greene23957369
Clark21542387
Portage20538280
Richland20465336
Wood19524246
Allen18427320
Miami16950348
Columbiana16385331
Muskingum16346206
Wayne15351304
Tuscarawas14018357
Marion12978194
Erie12350198
Ashtabula12171225
Scioto12166182
Pickaway12009151
Ross11417223
Hancock11151173
Geauga10572174
Lawrence10433171
Belmont10200231
Huron9545155
Jefferson9425225
Union933375
Sandusky8981166
Seneca8639156
Knox8591169
Washington8578156
Athens825096
Darke8215179
Ashland7777147
Auglaize7695115
Shelby7302132
Defiance7174114
Brown7015115
Crawford7010150
Fulton6953111
Logan6818108
Mercer679397
Guernsey677983
Highland6591117
Madison639289
Clinton6361106
Williams623498
Preble6153139
Putnam6054120
Jackson569496
Champaign564786
Perry557179
Coshocton5525103
Ottawa549599
Morrow504464
Fayette481270
Hardin475399
Gallia460278
Pike457876
Van Wert451591
Adams4495109
Henry422776
Hocking398093
Holmes3917137
Wyandot366673
Carroll348978
Paulding317449
Meigs300957
Monroe230860
Noble216147
Morgan208938
Harrison204052
Vinton182037
Unassigned05
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Angola
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Decatur
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The chilly temperatures and clouds are sticking around Monday with a brief warm up midweek.
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