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 ]
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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.

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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."


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