Education, From The Capitol To The Classroom

Does Indiana Attach Enough Money To Its Private School Vouchers?

Students sing and play music games during choir class at St. Charles Catholic School in Bloomington.

Elle Moxley / StateImpact Indiana

Students sing and play music games during choir class at St. Charles Catholic School in Bloomington.

Last session Indiana lawmakers upped the amount students could receive in state-funded tuition vouchers to attend private school.

But proponents of school choice say the new limits — $4,700 this year and $4,800 next year for students in grades K-8 — are still too low to pay tuition at many private schools.

“We don’t give kids the amount of money they deserve,” says Robert Enlow, president of the Friedman Foundation for Educational Choice. “The voucher is only $4,800 in elementary school. You can’t grow a program and help kids and more kids if you’re not going to give them an amount of money that can allow that to happen.”

About half of Indiana students come from families with incomes low enough to receive free or reduced-price meals at school. Enlow says according to the report the Indiana Department of Education released Monday, 75 percent of voucher-recipient students come from low-income families, or about $43,500 for a family of four.

“I’d say this program is still serving serving far more low-income children than the rest of the state,” says Enlow.

Enlow wants to see the state grow the number of private schools participating in the program and provide additional financial resources to students in the form of larger vouchers.

But Indiana University professor Ashlyn Nelson says the maximum voucher amount is already on pace with similar programs elsewhere.

“Indiana’s Choice Scholarships — in terms of purchasing power — are more expansive than other, similar types of voucher program operating in Washington, D.C., Ohio and Louisiana currently,” says Nelson, who researches the economics of education. “They’re less expansive than other programs operating in Colorado, North Carolina and Milwaukee.”

But what really separates Indiana’s program is which schools and students can participate — the number of vouchers has doubled in each of the past two years. Nelson says that’s a problem because a significant amount of money is flowing towards low-rated schools.

“I find it highly problematic that the school in Indiana with the highest dollar amount in Choice Scholarships is Ambassador Christian Academy, and that school was rated an F,” she says. “We need some sort of accountability process in place where schools that are rated F or just poorly overall do not end up receiving huge amounts of taxpayer dollars to essentially reallocate students to very low-performing schools.”

Currently schools that receive a D or an F for two consecutive years cannot accept new voucher students, but they can keep the ones who are already attending.

Nelson says that policy is flawed. But choice proponents such as Enlow say parents, not the state, should determine what school is right for their students.

“This shouldn’t be about public versus private,” he says. “It should be about what a kid needs.”


  • Indy Parent

    But wasn’t the argument for vouchers in the first place that Catholic private schools could educate children more cheaply than public schools? That argument seems to be going by the wayside as Enlow argues for larger vouchers. What private schools will be recruited to start up in Indiana, once the voucher dollar amounts are increased to the levels he wants?

  • Frank Rizzo

    What part of ‘private school’ don’t people understand. The voucher is supposed to help, not cover the whole cost. Want free education? We have a public school system for that.

    • Tracy


  • Lindsey Rust

    The amount most definitely needs to be increased as Indiana is currently missing out on new high quality providers (schools) coming to our state because of this. Very soon we will hit a point where demand surpasses capacity and that will mean denying children opportunities that they desperately need. Finally, Professor Nelson is mistaken on a few of her details. Some of the programs in other states that she references have higher amounts than Indiana. If Indiana would make the voucher funding 90%/50% of what the publics received (like it is for high school vouchers) there will still be a savings to the state, but will allow access to more opportunities for more kids.

    • Indy Parent

      Who are the high quality providers that would be coming?

    • Jorfer88

      The professor does mention that “They’re less expansive than other programs operating in Colorado, North Carolina and Milwaukee.” so she does mention that they could be more expansive but they are about average in terms of pupil payments.

    • Karynb9

      “Very soon we will hit a point where demand surpasses capacity…”

      Right. Excellent public schools in this state have faced the same problem for years. However, they can’t turn students away or throw them on a waiting list — they have to increase class sizes or add portable classrooms or cross their fingers that the public will approve a referendum to build more buildings. If children wanting placement in private schools end up “denying children opportunities that they desperately need,” it’s their own fault for closing their doors and declaring themselves “full.”

  • Tracy

    If the true purpose of vouchers is to get poor students out of failing schools, how can paying for them to go to failing charters be a good idea? BUT, maybe that is not the true purpose…

  • HoosierMommy

    Actually, TOO much money is going to voucher. Just as critics suspected, the vast majority of schools receiving such students are religious. On average, their students get lower test scores, and there is, basically, NO accountability. Vouchers are simply a way to use public money to support religious education, in direct contravention to the Constitution’s prohibition on state support of religion. And before I get lots of hate from other commentators, I am a strong supporter of parochial schools. My siblings and I attended one through 8th grade, and I sent both of my own children to one. However, I strongly believe that taxpayer money should not be used to support parochial schools. Who decides what types of religious education are supported? What are the standards for what is taught, and if those standards conflict with religious doctrine, how, and by whom, are those conflicts resolved? Religious guidance is for parents to provide for their children. If they choose to use school as a vehicle for religious instruction, they need to pay for it themselves.

  • Jorfer88

    How can you run this article without mentioning that the average 1-8 grade voucher is $ 4,209.23 for the 90% tuition level for this year which is about $500 less than the maximum set? Yes, this doesn’t show what the medium payment is, so it may give a wrong idea of the distribution, but it indicates that plenty of private schools are finding ways to offer tuition below the max. In other words, stop complaining and start fundraising. You want to increase your voucher amount, how about increasing funding for all schools?

  • Sweetwater Episcopal

    It’s interesting how the education landscape differs in other states.

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