Enrollment in Indiana’s Choice Scholarship Program more than doubled in the program’s second year with 9,324 families signing up to participate in 2012-2013. Last year, Indiana administered the largest first year voucher program in the nation’s history, with 3,919 families embracing the opportunity to choose schools that meet their children’s unique academic needs.
“Once again, thousands of Hoosier families made powerful choices for their children, choices made possible by Indiana’s commitment to educational options for all students—regardless of background, income or ZIP code,” State Superintendent of Public Instruction Dr. Tony Bennett said. “Simply put, we are providing our neediest families options they’ve never had before, and they’re taking advantage of the opportunity to select schools that work best for their children.
“This socially just policy underscores my belief that all students can and will succeed if we remove senseless barriers that allow achievement gaps and cycles of poverty to persist, especially in our most challenged communities.”
Indiana’s voucher program provides means tested scholarships families may use to send their children to participating non-public schools. Students qualify for one of two scholarship levels based on their total family income as well as federal free and reduced lunch participation requirements.
Overall, 81 percent of participating students come from Indiana’s most impoverished households and qualify for the larger scholarship. In addition, 48 percent of participating students come from minority households and 66 percent of students come from urban areas. In total, 34 percent of enrolled students come from suburban, rural and township communities.
“These figures show poverty knows no boundaries and impacts students in every part of the state,” Bennett said. “That’s why it’s important to have statewide policies in place that aim to ensure a wide array of educational options for all families in all communities.”
The number of schools participating in the voucher program increased from 241 in 2011-2012 to 289 in 2012-2013. Participating schools must be accredited, administer state assessments and be graded on an A to F scale — just like all traditional public schools and public charter schools.
Implementing a rigorous and meaningful accountability framework was a key aspect of the 2011 legislation that created the Choice Scholarship Program. Participating schools receiving low A to F grades can lose the ability to accept new students in as little as two years.
Scholarship levels are determined by federal free and reduced lunch income requirements. Students who qualify for free or reduced lunch can receive up to 90 percent of the tuition support from the school corporation in which they live. This figure is capped at $4,500 at the elementary and middle school level.
Families whose total income does not exceed 150 percent of the amount required to qualify for reduced lunch are also eligible for the scholarship. These students receive 50 percent of the tuition support from the school corporation in which they reside.
Funds remaining after the scholarships are distributed to participating families are redistributed to all school corporations using the school funding formula. Last year, nearly $4.2 million was redistributed to school corporations across the state.
Indiana remains fundamentally committed to providing students access to a menu of quality educational choices. Students may exercise public school choice without cost by attending a school in an accepting school corporation outside their geographic boundaries. They may also attend public charter schools and virtual schools operated by charter authorizers and public school corporations. Moreover, Indiana offers additional choice scholarships through its Scholarship Granting Organization program funded by tax-deductible donations.