Indiana

Education, From The Capitol To The Classroom

Indiana Voucher Students May Get Chance To Be Their Brother's (Or Sister's) Keeper

Kyle Stokes / StateImpact Indiana

Heather Snavely asks a student to stay seated while playing math games in her classroom at Our Lady of Hungary Catholic school in South Bend.

A proposal to expand the number of children eligible to receive public money to attend private school will get its first hearing Wednesday.

The Indiana Senate’s Education Committee will discuss a bill Sen. Carlin Yoder, R-Middlebury, filed that would make all siblings of current participants in the Indiana Choice Scholarship Program eligible to receive private school vouchers.

Why do that? Because currently, in order to qualify for the program, students must attend public school for a full year before they can be eligible for a voucher.

More than 9,100 students are attending private schools right now through the voucher program, which now costs the state more than $35 million. The state made 15,000 scholarships available this year, but the state will not cap the number of vouchers it hands out next year.

Those who support the voucher program have been discussing the possibility of loosening its eligibility guidelines for at least a year. Last session, Sen. Doug Eckerty, R-Yorktown, introduced a bill that would’ve scrapped the public school attendance requirement altogether, but it never made it to the Senate floor.

The public school attendance requirement has been irksome to many parents who have long sent their children to private schools.

“I would like to know why I have to pay for my children’s private education… and now because I have never placed my children in a public school, my children are not eligible for a voucher,” one StateImpact commenter wrote. “Who exactly is getting the money allowed for my five children?”

But according to the bill’s Fiscal Impact Statement, which the General Assembly’s non-partisan Legislative Services Agency prepares, the change could drain money from public schools:

The bill could reduce the school formula revenue for local schools. Currently, the Choice Scholarship grants are paid from the savings in tuition support since the students attended public schools the year before and would probably be built into the school tuition support projections for CY 2014 and CY 2015. The addition of students into the program who are not included in the tuition support projections could cause the total distribution for the school formula, Choice Scholarship awards, and the Mitch Daniels Early Graduation Scholarships to exceed the tuition support appropriation. If distributions exceed the appropriation, then distributions to all schools would be proportionately reduced.

While the changes could rope more siblings into the voucher program, school choice proponents have told StateImpact many of the state’s private schools are already nearing capacity — and unless the state increases the amount of a scholarship, it’s not likely more private schools will open to accept them.

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