Private schools benefit from 2011 education law, NECN, 4/12/12

posted Apr 13, 2012, 4:13 AM by Bill Duncan


Apr 12, 2012 5:34pm

INDIANAPOLIS (AP) — When The Oaks Academy decided a year ago to launch a second inner-city private school, its leaders committed to nearly doubling the $1 million they raise annually for student scholarships.

It seems like a lot to ask, but they're confident they can do it due in part to a generally overlooked part of the 2011 education reform package that is helping private schools line up more donations.

Donors already had incentive to contribute thanks to a law that allows them to claim a 50-percent tax credit on scholarship gifts. But the law requires that donations be funneled through third-party granting organizations, and it wasn't clear if donors could designate which school they wanted their money to go to.

The 2011 reform package makes it clear they can direct gifts, a move that seems to have unleashed the tax credit's full potential.

The clarification — as well as heavy promotion of the new law by two Indianapolis-based scholarship-granting organizations — has prompted more than 100 schools to begin telling their donors about the tax credit.

Gifts to fund private-school scholarships statewide already are at $3.1 million for the current school year, up 40 percent compared to all of the previous year. Total contributions under the program are capped by law at $10 million.

The new source of funds is another way the roughly 400 private schools around Indiana could increase in number and capacity, thereby playing a larger role in the future of Indiana's education system.

While the tax credits will generate less money than the private school voucher program the Legislature also passed in 2011, private schools feel they can count on the credits for years to come because they are less controversial.

Indiana's voucher program — which gives an average annual scholarship of $4,500 to low- and middle-income students to attend a private school — is the subject of a constitutional challenge that will be heard by the Indiana Supreme Court.

"Everyone believes tax credits are fairly stable and here to stay. That's not the case with vouchers," said Mike Lindell, chief operating officer of the Indianapolis-based think tank Sagamore Institute, which set up a scholarship-granting organization in 2011.

Sagamore is now working with 50 schools around the state — including Cathedral High School in Indianapolis and the Pinnacle School in Bloomington — and so far has received more than $1.3 million in contributions during this school year. By the end of May, it will have awarded about 400 scholarships.

"What they discovered is, they could increase their donor base," Lindell said of private schools. Next year, he hopes Sagamore's scholarship-granting organization pulls in as much as $2.5 million.

Also, the pioneer of private-school scholarships, Indianapolis-based Education Choice Charitable Trust, has expanded its scope statewide, tripling the number of schools with which it works to 150. It has also nearly tripled the number of scholarships it has awarded, to 1,450, and has more than doubled its total fundraising, to more than $1.2 million.

"It has helped increase donor participation. Because now donors have the confidence of knowing they can help their alma mater or that they're helping a specific school in a community," said Mindy Colbert Mesta, executive director of Education Choice.

The tax credit for private-school scholarships was passed by the Legislature in 2009. But at that time, it appeared to require donors to contribute to a general scholarship funding organization, which would then pass out scholarships to students at a variety of schools.

That's primarily how Education Choice operated, working with schools in the Indianapolis area.

Mesta said the organization received an interpretation of the 2009 law from the Indiana Department of Education that OK'd donors designating funds to a specific school. But that interpretation was not widely known by donors or by the schools hitting them up for cash.

The Oaks has received scholarships from Choice for the past decade, but it did not encourage its donors to make contributions.

But over the past year, The Oaks held several information sessions for donors — especially targeting Indiana business owners who have large state tax liabilities — showing them how the tax credit allowed them to give more to the Oaks without increasing their out-of-pocket costs.

The Oaks also will make donors aware of their giving options during an April 18 fundraising event headlined by Gov. Mitch Daniels, a longtime supporter of the school.

The Oaks raised about $750,000 through Sagamore's scholarship program over the past year. Those scholarships will cover most of Oaks' $8,600 yearly tuition for about 100 students.

The Oaks' fundraising needs are particularly high because it has a quota that half its students come from low-income families. And nearly 80 percent of its students receive some form of financial aid.

To be eligible for a scholarship tax credit program, a student's family must have income that is less than double the federal poverty limit. Also, a student must either have received a tax credit scholarship the previous year or have been enrolled in a public school the previous year, or be entering kindergarten or first grade.

No donor can designate a gift to a specific student.

Dave Smitson, president of Indianapolis-based engine distributor Cummins Crosspoint LLC and chairman of The Oaks' board of trustees, said he doubled his personal gift to the school this year while taking advantage of the state tax credit.

Smitson declined to specify how much he gave. But he said the state tax credit, in combination with federal tax deductions, can make a $150,000 donation have a net cost to the donor of just $49,000.

"For me personally, it was, 'Why not just double my gift and be more generous?'" Smitson said, adding that many other donors responded in the same way. The Oaks' scholarship fundraising this year has already brought in more than $1.3 million.

Next year, when The Oaks opens its new school along Rural Street just south of Interstate 70, it will need nearly $2 million in scholarship fundraising. The new school, called Oaks Academy-Brookside, initially will enroll 96 students, with 30 of those transferring from The Oaks' current location at 2301 N. Park Ave.

The new school will start out with students in pre-kindergarten through second grade, and will add one grade each year until its eldest students are eighth-graders.


Information from: Indianapolis Business Journal,

Vouchers place public and private schools in unfair competition, OpEd, South Bend Tribune, 3/18/12

posted Mar 19, 2012, 3:30 AM by Bill Duncan


Vouchers place public and private schools in unfair competition


6:02 AM EDT, March 18, 2012

Indiana's new school voucher program is not complicated. With certain income restrictions based on a sliding scale, it allows current public school students who enroll in state-certified private schools to receive a voucher of up to $4,500 to help cover the cost of attending these schools.

Supporters of the voucher program contend that Indiana is awash with "failing" and marginally effective schools that too many students are forced to attend. The voucher program, they argue, gives low-and moderate-income families the same choice that wealthy families already have of sending their kids to either a local public school or a private one.

Opponents of the voucher program say that it will have a negative impact on the quality of public schools, not because vouchers are in-themselves evil, but because of the way the program is financed. It will, they argue, over time, drain vital resources from public school systems that are already under pressure to reduce their budgets.

The issue is that vouchers are funded by extracting money on a per-student basis from the school districts from which the affected students matriculate; i.e., if a student from South Bend receives a voucher to attend a private school, up to $4,500 will be deducted from the South Bend Community School Corp. budget and given to that student.

Many opponents do not have any particular objection to using public funds to, in a limited way, support private schools. Government has a long history of supporting various private endeavors including the G-I Bill of Rights "voucher" program that allowed millions of veterans to attend the college of their choice.

There is, however, an issue with robbing Peter to pay Paul. Public school systems are fundamentally different from private schools and they should not be in competition with each other for the same pot of taxpayer dollars. If the state chooses to fund vouchers it should be done with a totally separate budget appropriation and it should not be administered by the state Department of Public Instruction.

The mission of public school districts is to provide educational services to local communities. They need to be as inclusive as possible. They all must offer a very broad range of opportunities to every single student who lives within that district. They do not have the option of deciding who should or should not attend or who can stay and who must leave. They must provide a program for every student.

The one thing that public and private schools do have in common is the requirement to offer a core curriculum of English, math, science and social studies. But, unlike private schools public schools must also offer more: programs in visual and performing arts, vocational and technical training, and special education. Many also offer English as a second language and most offer programs for gifted and talented students. Some offer adult education programs as well.

Private schools are by definition private with their own individual missions and they have no obligation to be comprehensive. Beyond their core curriculum they can teach (or not teach) whatever they choose. More importantly, they get to choose who gets admitted to their particular school and who gets to stay.

The vast majority of Indiana school districts offer a wide range of high-quality academic programs and they do as well or better than private schools in educating kids who bring a lot to the classroom; average intelligence or above, a stable and supportive family and a desire to succeed.

Public schools also do well with children with special needs and with students who have a vocational or technical, rather than an academic orientation.

Public schools do less well with "at-risk" students; those who have limited academic abilities or who come from dysfunctional non-supportive families. But, so do private schools. While there are some notable exceptions, most private schools will not even admit students of this ilk. The private schools that have had success in dealing with at-risk kids are invariably schools that are able to concentrate a substantial amount of resources on a relatively small number of students. Public schools should be so lucky.

To be sure there are potentially good students in public schools who are being shortchanged. There is, at the same time, no shortage of proposals on how to deal with the challenges these students face. The majority of these proposals feature innovative teaching techniques, smaller classes and more intensive use of technology. Most of these proposals are also costly.

Many factors contribute to low levels of student achievement. Many experts would argue that although school organization and administration can be an issue, the major culprit is usually a community's demographic characteristics. Schools that serve low-income neighborhoods invariably have a higher proportion of students who do not do well on standardized tests than student from middle- or upper-income neighborhoods. This disparity can be overcome but it will take time, commitment and money.

In the meantime, public schools must continue to do what they have always done which is, even in these difficult economic times, to offer comprehensive educational opportunities to each and every student in their district. In this respect, public schools serve a different purpose than private schools and thus are not in competition with them.

Public support of private education has a long history in America. It is part of our social fabric, but the decision to divert funds from public schools to private schools is based on a misguided understanding of the role of public school systems. Going forward, if public schools districts are to improve they will need greater community support and an increased, rather than a decreased, level of resources.

William P. Hojnacki is a professor emeritus at Indiana University South Bend, where he served as the campus dean of the School of Public and Environmental Affairs from 1983 to 2002, and is a South Bend resident. He served on the South Bend Community School Corp. Board of Trustees from 1997 to 2005.

Copyright © 2012, South Bend Tribune

Education attack abated, Journal Gazette, 3/8/12

posted Mar 9, 2012, 8:10 AM by Bill Duncan


Karen Francisco | The Journal Gazette

The session's not quite over, but indications are that some lawmakers might be growing a bit nervous about the havoc they wreaked on Indiana schools last year. Against all odds, the General Assembly is about to adjourn without expanding the nation's most expansive school voucher program. Two other bills harmful to public education are struggling toward the finish line.

Indiana Grapples With Impact of Voucher Law, EdWeek, 1/10/12

posted Feb 1, 2012, 1:38 AM by Bill Duncan   [ updated Feb 14, 2012, 8:33 PM ]


As the 3,919 students who participated in the first year of Indiana's new, wide-reaching school voucher program near the end of the first semester in their new schools, the program faces its next challenge: A state court hearing opened on Dec. 19 on a lawsuit arguing the program violates Indiana's constitution.

The Choice Scholarship program, one of a number of education changes enacted by Indiana's Republican-dominated state government during the 2011 legislative session, has drawn national attention for a number of bold components. It is the only active voucher program in the country that is not limited to low-income students or students who have attended a low-performing school, and the only one with no eventual cap on enrollment.

With the program moving into full gear, public schools across the state are bracing for an outflow of funds from already-tight budgets, while private schools prepare for an increased demand for spaces in their classrooms. Meanwhile, debate still rages over the initiative as schools and families consider the financial, educational, and social consequences of a program that is projected to grow substantially.

The hearing that opened last month in the Marion County superior court, in Indianapolis, stems from a lawsuit filed by a group of residents with backing from the National Education Association. It questions whether the voucher program meets Indiana's constitutional obligation to provide a common education to its students and asks whether public funds can go to private institutions. Nearly all the private schools signed up for the program so far are religiously affiliated.


Demographic Breakdown

Of the first year's batch of students, 593 were from middle-income families, that qualified for a 50 percent voucher. About 53 percent of the voucher recipients are minority students, while the state's population is 84 percent white. Mr. Bennett said the demographic breakdown of voucher recipients is evidence that the program fulfills its goal: "When we first proposed this, that was the exact demographic that many folks were saying would be left in public schools."

Jon G. Ellis, the executive director of the Indiana Association of Public School Superintendents, has a different perspective, noting that the percentage of Indiana students in nonpublic schools has remained constant since 1989. "We've always had about 5 percent looking for a way to leave public schools. We've just decided to pay them to look for a way," he said.

According to Jenny S. Andorfer, the director of admissions at the private Bishop Luers High School, in Fort Wayne, "I had a lot of people call me and register subsequently once they knew the voucher program had passed. But, really, the majority of our voucher monies went to students that we already had registered to come here for this school year." the link for more...

Daniels signs vouchers, charter school bills into law, Indiana Economic Digest, 5/5/11

posted Jan 10, 2012, 7:47 AM by Bill Duncan


Daniels signs vouchers, charter school bills into law


"State Sen. Ed Charbonneau, R-Valparaiso, was one of three dozen state lawmakers also in attendance Thursday. He said he voted for both new laws because he believes state education money ought to follow the child.

"Once you reach the conclusion that our mission is to educate students and not fund buildings, I think it makes the whole process more understandable," Charbonneau said."

Participating schools

posted Jan 8, 2012, 6:17 AM by Bill Duncan

PBS Newshour report on Indiana Voucher Program

posted Dec 7, 2011, 11:56 AM by Bill Duncan


A very complete report

Students leave 182 Indiana districts under voucher program, 11/9/11

posted Dec 7, 2011, 11:55 AM by Bill Duncan


By Lesley Weidenbener,

Franklin College News Service

INDIANAPOLIS – Students from 182 of Indiana’s public school districts have moved to private schools under the state’s new education voucher program, although only seven districts lost more than 100 kids.

In all, 3,919 students from low- to moderate-income families qualified for an Indiana Choice Scholarship this fall. Of those, 86 percent were moving from a public school to a private one.

The rest – 537 students – were previously attending private school s using funds donated under a state tax credit program. Those students were transferred to the voucher program.

“Hoosier parents are more empowered than ever before in our state,” said Superintendent of Public Instruction Tony Bennett who pushed for the voucher program. “Demographics do not determine a child’s ability to grow academically and should not determine the educational opportunities offered to any student,” he said. “When you connect a child’s name and face to the Choice Scholarship program, it is easy to see the transformational results of increased educational opportunities.”

Data released Thursday by the Indiana Department of Education shows:

• Fort Wayne Community Schools lost the most students to private schools this fall, with 392 kids using a state voucher to transfer out of the district. South Bend Community Schools followed with 373 students and Indianapolis Public Schools with 356.

• Nearly 70 percent of voucher students come from urban areas. The rest are from small towns and rural and suburban areas.

• More than half of the students are minorities. One in four is black and one in five is Hispanic. Nearly 8 percent are multi-racial. About 48 percent of voucher students are white.

• Eighty-five percent of the students come from families whose household incomes qualify them for free or reduced lunch.

“I think it’s targeting the group of students that we were interested in the most,” said Sen. Luke Kenley, R-Noblesville, a member of the Senate Education Committee and chairman of the Senate Appropriations Committee, which signed off on the voucher plan. “It’s giving those students more educational opportunities.”

But for public districts losing students, the situation is more difficult. Education leaders had been skeptical of the voucher plan – approved earlier this year by the Indiana General Assembly – saying it would drain money from public schools.

Krista Stockman, spokeswoman for Fort Wayne Community Schools, said Thursday the district will lose about $5,990 for each student that has transferred to a private school. That would top $2.3 million this year.

“That is a significant amount of money,” Stockman said. “Certainly that has an impact.”

She said the district had been budgeting conservatively on the assumption that it would lose students. But officials were disappointed by the numbers, especially because the district had been given a top rating by the Indiana Board of Education for its student achievement.

“By the state’s own measure we’re an A rated district and yet students can choose to leave to go with state money and take it somewhere else,” Stockman said.

More than 250 private schools qualified to receive voucher students. However, only 241 had at least one voucher student enroll.

Religious-based private schools were big beneficiaries of the new voucher students. Nineteen of the 20 private schools with the most voucher students are religious-based.

Ambassador Christian Academy in Gary received the most voucher students with 110. That gained the school $471,628 in state-funded tuition payments. Also, among the religious schools gaining significant numbers of students were Liberty Christian Elementary in Anderson with 73 students and MTI School of Knowledge, an Indianapolis-based Islamic school, with 70.

Posted 11/7/2011

Ind. school voucher program cheered, criticized, USA Today 8/28/11

posted Dec 7, 2011, 10:25 AM by Bill Duncan

("vouchers offer a stealth subsidy for religious schools and drain critical funds from already cash-poor public schools")


Ind. school voucher program cheered, criticized

By Scott Elliott, The Indianapolis Star
Updated 8/28/2011 11:39 PM


Single mother Heather Coffy faced a tough decision: return her son to a public school where he struggled academically or fall behind on her monthly mortgage payments to keep him and her two other children in private Catholic schools where they were flourishing.

In April, the Indiana Legislature provided another option — vouchers that allow low-and middle-income families to use public funds to help pay private school tuition.

The Indiana school voucher program — the nation's second statewide program — has been a boon to parents such as Coffy and to more than 240 religious schools, most Catholic, now eligible to receive public funds.

But the law, which allows families to redirect money from the school district in which their children reside to private schools, is being contested and sharply criticized by public school officials and the state teachers' union, who contend that vouchers offer a stealth subsidy for religious schools and drain critical funds from already cash-poor public schools.

Opponents have filed a lawsuit alleging it violates the Indiana constitution's required separation of church and state. They say the early numbers bear that out: All but six of the 242 non-public schools so far approved for the voucher program have religious affiliations.

"I think the intent is that the money will be going to religious institutions or private institutions to fund those children's educations, and so that is a voucher program funding religious education," said Teresa Meredith, Indiana State Teachers Association vice president and a plaintiff in the lawsuit.

State Superintendent of Public Instruction Tony Bennett said the initial voucher numbers simply reflect the fact that the vast majority of Indiana private schools are religious.

Regardless of the initial result, Bennett said, the intent is not to subsidize religious schools.

"We are subsidizing the education of children," he said, "in the schools where parents want those children to attend."

That's the case with Indianapolis mother Coffy, who is not Catholic. She said the decision to keep her children in Catholic schools was solely about academics — her son was failing in public school before she moved him and her two other children to private Catholic schools. "I really wanted what was best for him," she said.

Before Indiana's voucher program was approved, Coffy said her plan for this school year was to pay only the interest on her mortgage to save enough money to cover tuition.

"I was going to keep my children in private school no matter what," she said. "Now I can pay my full mortgage this month."

Religion was a major factor in Sarah Masquelier's decision to sign up for the voucher program. The Indianapolis woman said she has long wanted a Christian school for her children but could not afford it. Instead, she tried just about everything else in pursuit of a quality education, including a charter school and home-schooling. Vouchers will allow the two oldest of her five children to attend Kingsway Christian School in Avon, an Indianapolis suburb.

"I've always been researching options for schools," she said, "because I never have been very satisfied with the public schools."

Whatever their motivations, families have been flocking to the program since it was launched less than two months ago.

State officials report 3,259 students have enrolled so far, which eclipses the first-year enrollment in Ohio, home of the USA's only other statewide voucher system. Ohio's program attracted 2,713 students its first year in 2007, according to the Ohio Department of Education website.

Indiana's program, which is still accepting applications, also topped first-year enrollment in a similar program in Milwaukee, which introduced a large-scale voucher system in 1991. Milwaukee's program began with just 337 students its first year before growing to more than 19,000 last year, according to the Milwaukee School Choice Program website.

Indiana has a cap of 7,500 vouchers this year and no more than 15,000 next year. The cap will be lifted in 2013 and there will be no limit on the number of students who can obtain vouchers, according to the Indiana Department of Education.

The program is drawing in students from urban centers such as Indianapolis, Fort Wayneand Evansville and rural districts and small towns, data show. Fifteen percent of voucher recipients live in small towns and rural districts.

The financial impact on Indiana Public Schools so far been is relatively small — $2.5 million to $3 million, or about 1% of its $290 million budget. But Superintendent Eugene White said it is one more blow to the financially strapped district.

"It simply means we are going to have to cut our budget another $3 million," White said.

Shifting enrollment blurs tracking of voucher dollars, 11/9/11

posted Dec 7, 2011, 10:08 AM by Bill Duncan


Last updated: November 9, 2011 2:09 p.m.
Shifting enrollment blurs tracking of voucher dollars

Niki Kelly
The Journal Gazette

INDIANAPOLIS – Hoosier students are playing a variation of musical chairs under Indiana’s new voucher program, but this version has financial implications for the state and Indiana schools.

Last week, the Indiana Department of Education announced 3,919 students received state-paid vouchers to attend private schools under the first year of an expansive program passed by legislators.

But state officials now confirm that 67 of those children, nearly 2 percent, have already left the private or religious schools just a few months into the school year. Some private schools are also experiencing an interesting phenomenon.

The St. Charles Borromeo Catholic School in Fort Wayne gained 24 students from public schools this year because of vouchers. But they also lost 15 students as parents pulled their kids from the private school – supposedly for one year – to make them eligible for vouchers next year and in the future.Wrapped up in all of this is the difficult task of tracking where the state dollars are going and whether they are being used to educate the child.

“The money should follow the student. That should be our default,” said Republican House Speaker Brian Bosma, who co-authored the voucher legislation. “We’re learning and will re-examine it next year.”

In April, state lawmakers passed the voucher law. It is the most expansive program in the country because its income guidelines are wide and students from all schools – not just failing schools – are eligible. A family of four, for instance, can make up to $62,000 and still qualify for tuition assistance.

The amount of each voucher depends in part on area funding levels for the public school district and the student’s financial need.

On average, vouchers were worth $4,150 this year. Overall, the vouchers totaled $16.2 million in taxpayer dollars going to largely religious private schools rather than public schools.

All important in the process is count day, Sept. 16, when state officials count students at individual districts. That enrollment figure determines state funding the schools receive.

Stephanie Sample, communications director for the Department of Education, said the voucher money is distributed to the private schools in two installments – October and February.

If the child is expelled or withdraws, the private school must notify the state within five days. So far, 67 voucher students, about 1.7 percent, have left their private schools.

There have been 4,042 exits, about 0.4 percent, from public school in that time.

Sample said if a voucher student leaves the private school, that school must provide the state a refund depending on how long the student was enrolled.

But the Department of Education does not forward the remaining dollars to the school where the student is newly enrolled.

Public schools don’t have a parallel requirement to refund money to the state if a student leaves after count day, Sample said.

“Multiple count days would make this all more simple and efficient,” Sample said of an idea lawmakers are discussing to count students several times during the year instead of once.

Such a change would make it easier for funding to “follow the child.”

Fort Wayne Community Schools reported that since count day it has had 16 students enroll in the district from a private school. East Allen County Schools had 11. It is unclear how many are voucher students.

St. Charles Principal Rob Sordelet said he doesn’t think students are purposely moving after count day, but he said the enrollment count sometimes coincides with the first term ending. So if the student has academic issues, it is an obvious time to move.

He also said that his school – which serves kindergarten through eighth grade – lost 15 students this year because of the voucher program. The law generally requires students attend public school for one year to be eligible for a voucher.

Sordelet said the families that removed their children meet the income guidelines for a voucher and want to be able to use it next year and for the rest of the child’s school career.

Using the average voucher amount, this could save parents up to $40,000.

“It is a tough decision for families, and we had some nice discussions about it,” he said. “You have to do what’s best for your family.”

FWCS Spokeswoman Krista Stockman said having those families exposed to the district creates an opportunity.

“It’s our responsibility to do our best with every child who comes to us,” she said. “People have misconceptions about public school districts. Hopefully they will see our value and stay with us.”

Bosma said legislators this year discussed this theoretic possibility and will have to keep an eye on the phenomenon. Because the state previously was not responsible for education funding in private schools, this swap could put the state on the hook for additional dollars.

“They’ll be in public school for a year, which gives them a great chance to make the sale,” he said. “The best thing is the families have options and they can select the option that is best for their student.”

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