The Indiana Department of Education released an updated report Monday that shows the state’s choice scholarship program, sometimes called school vouchers, cost the state $18 million more than it did last school year.
More than 32,000 students enrolled in the program during the 2015-2016 school year and received state dollars to attend private schools, meaning almost three percent of students in Indiana attend private school using a choice scholarship.
The state spent $131.5 million in scholarships this year, which is $18 million more than last school year.
When the legislature created the program in 2011, advocates claimed it would save the state money. Because the vouchers cover either 50 or 90 percent of the tuition at a private school, depending on the family’s income. Republicans who led the charge in 2011 said the state would spend less money since it’s only funding a portion of the education.
Because of this sentiment, the original legislation mandated that the IDOE calculate the savings using a formula dictated in the law. It said the savings from this program would be redistributed to public schools. The first two years of the program showed a savings of around $4 and 5 million a year, but since the 2013-2014 school year, as the number of students using vouchers grew, it became a deficit. Last school year that deficit was $40 million and this year it jumped to $53 million.
As this number continues to grow, state superintendent Glenda Ritz is calling for a halt to the expansion of the program. In the middle of this year’s legislative session, she asked the General Assembly to look at the effectiveness of the program before continuing to let it grow.
“For that reason, I am calling for a pause on the expansion of school vouchers,” Ritz said in February. “For too long, Indiana has diverted funding from public schools without studying the impact on our traditional school system. It is time for our state legislature to fully study the fiscal and academic impacts that the school voucher system is having on Indiana’s education system.”
During the 2013 legislative session, the qualifications to receive a voucher expanded and a cap on the number of scholarships available was removed. Now, any student who qualifies for the voucher may receive one. We are seeing the enrollment numbers start to level off after exponential growth the first few years.
The legislature doesn’t require the IDOE to generate the report, it only ever mandated that they calculate the savings. During the 2015 session, the General Assembly removed the requirement for the IDOE to calculate this formula, but they say they continue to do it for transparency in the program.