Indiana's new school voucher program has admitted more than 2,200 grade-school students who will receive state-funded scholarships to attend religious or private schools this school year, the Department of Education said Monday.
The program, which was part of the broad education overhaul the Legislature passed this spring and which is being challenged in court, has accepted 2,230 students since it began accepting applications last month, the Education Department said. The amount of scholarship aid students receive is based on family income.
"In just one month, thousands of Hoosier families have signed up to participate, demonstrating tremendous interest in this new opportunity. We couldn't be happier with the progress," Indiana Schools Superintendent Tony Bennett told The Associated Press.
The state has approved about 250 religious or private schools for the program, making them eligible to enroll voucher students.
A group of teachers and religious leaders has filed a lawsuit challenging the voucher program, claiming it violates the state constitution by providing public money to private schools that can give preference to students based on test scores, disabilities and religious faith. The Indiana State Teachers Association is backing the challenge.
A Marion County judge is expected to hear an argument Thursday about whether to grant an injunction blocking the voucher program.
The number of students who have applied for the vouchers shows "there was no great public outcry for a voucher program," said Nate Schnellenberger, president of the teacher's association.
Schnellenberger said recent experiences with courts blocking parts of controversial new state laws blocking funding for abortion clinics and cracking down on illegal immigration make him hopeful and injunction will be granted blocking the voucher program.
The voucher program takes a portion of the money that would have gone to a public school system and converts into a scholarship for use at a private school that qualifies with the state.
If a student qualifies for the federal free or reduced lunch program the state will take 90 percent of the per-student average that would have been paid to the school system and convert it into a scholarship. If the family earns more than that, the state will convert half of that per-student average into a scholarship.
For instance, the state sends $7,552 per student to Indianapolis — students in the Indianapolis Public School system who qualify will either get $6,796 or $3,776 to attend private school.
Up to 7,500 students can receive scholarships this school year and up to 15,000 can receive vouchers next year.
Close to 400 students from Indianapolis Public Schools will receive vouchers; another 245 from Fort Wayne and 211 from South Bend will get the scholarships. Roughly 83 percent of the 2,230 students who will get vouchers come from the lowest income tier and will get the 90-percent scholarship.
"It eliminates the argument that anyone in the General Assembly had the intent of funding private education for rich people," Bennett said.