Indiana

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How Many More Students Would Qualify For Vouchers Under The Expansion Bill?

A picture of Pope Benedict XVI hangs in the hallway of St. Thomas Aquinas School in Indianapolis.

The Indiana Senate voted 27-23 Wednesday to approve a bill expanding eligibility requirements for the state’s private school voucher program.

Legislative analysts say “the increase in eligible children due to these changes is indeterminable, but could be significant.” Which had us wondering: Is there any way to to make the indeterminable somewhat… less indeterminable?

Here’s what House Bill 1003 does:  For one, the measure makes more special education students eligible to participate in Indiana’s Choice Scholarship Program. The bill also automatically makes siblings of current voucher recipients eligible for vouchers of their own.

How many more students become eligible under these provisions? Hard to say — there aren’t enough good numbers we know to even make an educated guess. Indeterminable, you might say.

But House Bill 1003 also drops the “public school attendance requirement” — the guideline that a student must attend public schools for at least a year to receive a voucher — for students living in attendance zones of schools that received an F grade from the state.

For that group of students, we do have some numbers that let us make some back-of-the-napkin calculations about how many students this voucher expansion could impact.

Here are a few questions you might ask:

  • How many young students enrolled in F schools last year? Under the current rules, young students entering school have to attend at least first grade in a public school to meet the public school attendance requirement — kindergarten doesn’t count. But if the version of House Bill 1003 that passed the Senate becomes law, those who live in attendance zones of F schools would be able to send their child straight to kindergarten in a private school. So how many students might that be? We know that roughly 2,400 students enrolled in kindergarten and roughly 2,500 students enrolled in first grade this year at schools that received F’s from the state. Of course, it’s impossible to say how many of them might get vouchers, but that at least gives a sense of the potential scale.

  • How many students already attend F schools and qualify for free or reduced price lunch? Most students in F schools already qualify for vouchers. We know this because of the more than 63,500 students attending F schools in traditional public school districts, three-quarters of those children — more than 49,000 students — are poor enough to receive free or reduced price lunches. That also means more than 49,000 students in F schools already met the income guidelines for vouchers. But students qualify for vouchers with household incomes up to 150 percent of the income limit for the free and reduced price lunch program. That means it’s possible that some number of the remaining 14,500 students don’t currently qualify for vouchers, but still attend F schools — that’s the group that represents an expansion under the Senate bill.

Because House Bill 1003 is more about dropping the public school attendance requirement, it is not accurate to say that as many as 14,500 additional students would qualify for vouchers. (To that end, a tweet I sent this morning about my initial data analysis might have been a little confusing for some.)

After all, we don’t know how many students live in attendance zones of F schools but enrolled in private schools anyway — there are 63,500 students attending F schools, but likely a different number of students living in an F school’s attendance zone. Under the Senate’s proposal, those students would all qualify for vouchers even though they’ve never enrolled in a public school.

That said, these numbers do speak to the breadth of the voucher program’s original eligibility requirements. As the pro-voucher Friedman Foundation for Educational Choice estimates, more than 530,000 Indiana students — more than half of the state’s student population — already qualify for the program, referred to in many education circles as the nation’s broadest voucher program.

Comments

  • Indy Parent

    It looks like the eligibility for vouchers could be easily, and legally, gamed by families eager for help with private school tuition. The free and reduced lunch application looks only at income and not assets. As a result, a family could be living in an expensive home, driving new cars, and taking nice vacations paid for by wealthy grandparents and that would never show up on the application. The typical application for financial aid at most private schools asks for those things. In addition, according to the application, “family” includes all persons living in the household even if they are just friends. So a family applying for a voucher could qualify at higher income levels just by having (or pretending to have) a friend live with them. There are too many opportunities for misuse of vouchers here and not enough accountability.

    • Bilgewater

      I’ve wondered whether students would ever misuse vouchers because they found a better environment for playing sports in a voucher school. To my knowledge, that aspect of “gaming the system” has never been addressed by voucher opponents (or supporters who might not want vouchers misused).

      • zeak

        game the system? wow what insight you have. fix the public school system and no one would have to “game the system” for a better education. group think doesn’t help the children

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