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