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Indiana voucher memo confuses, concerns districts

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A memo that sparked concern among Indiana's school districts by saying they would begin losing funding this month under the state's new private school voucher law was sent "prematurely" several months before the first funding reductions take place, a state education official says.

School leaders across the state received the memo in September showing the varying amounts each school district would lose in November to support the state-funded voucher program, the Journal and Courier of Lafayette reported.

Tippecanoe School Corp. Chief Financial Officer Kim Fox said the letter showed that her north-central Indiana district would lose more than $80,000 in state funding in November under the voucher program.

"When we received the memo, it came as quite a shock because we weren't planning for it," Fox said.

She and other local school officials were shocked because they had been told they would see no funding reduction in the current calendar year — and that money for the vouchers would be deducted from their regularly scheduled tuition support payments twice a year, starting next year.

They took their concerns to state lawmakers, who were also puzzled by the memo about the voucher program, which grants tax-based scholarships for low- and middle-income families to attend private schools.

State Rep. Randy Truitt, who voted in favor of the voucher bill, said the memo was a misunderstanding and that "the fear of another reduction is totally unfounded."

State Department of Education spokeswoman Stephanie Sample said the memo has been sent out too early. She said any funding reduction districts will see will come through their regularly scheduled tuition support payments, the first of which is in February.

"We sent that out prematurely, and we heard a lot of feedback that that didn't represent what they thought was going to happen. We fielded a lot of those concerns and agreed with them," Sample said.

The September memo isn't the first time the state's education agency has misinterpreted the law. In July, the agency released new teacher contract forms for the 2011-12 school year that a Marion County judge later declared illegal.

"There's definitely a lot of ambition at the Statehouse regarding the DOE, and I think that urgency that is kind of out there, that ambition, that overeagerness — I think sometimes you can get ahead of yourself on a decision," said Tippecanoe School Corp. Superintendent Scott Hanback.

Final enrollment numbers released earlier this month show that Indiana's voucher program has seen the largest first-year turnout of any voucher program in the nation.

Statewide, 3,919 students received more than $16 million in state-funded scholarships to attend private and mostly religious schools. The number of participants was capped at 7,500 for the program's first year.

The Indiana State Teacher's Association is backing a legal challenge to the voucher law.

A principal argument of proponents of the voucher program was that by issuing scholarships in amounts less than what the public school would have spent on that student's education, the program would save money.

For example, if a district gets $6,000 for a student and that student received a $4,500 scholarship, the additional $1,500 would somehow be returned to education funding.

But how that return will be made — whether to the pot of education funding prior to it being divvied up among districts or to each district in an amount proportional to the number of students that district lost to vouchers — is not yet clear.

"That's something I don't think we're ready to talk about yet," Sample said.

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  1. Now if he'd just stay there...

  2. Daniel - what about the many US citizens who do NOT follow what the Bible teaches? The Hindus, Jews, Muslims and others who are all American citizens entitled to all rights as Americans?? This issue has NOTHING to do with "What the Bible says..." Keep all Churches separate from State! Pence's ongoing idiocy continues to make Indiana look like a backwards, homophobic state in the eyes of our nation. Can't we move on to bigger issues - like educating our kids?

  3. 1. IBJ should link to the referenced report. We are in the age of electronic media...not sharing information is lazy. Here is a link http://www.in.gov/gov/files/Blue_Ribbon_Panel_Report_July_9_2014.pdf 2. The article should provide more clarity about the make-up of this panel. The commenters are making this item out to be partisan, it does not appear the panel is partisan. Here is a list of the panel which appears to be balanced with different SME to add different perspectives http://www.in.gov/activecalendar/EventList.aspx?view=EventDetails&eventidn=138116?formation_id=189603 3. It suggests a by-pass, I do not see where this report suggests another "loop". 4. Henry, based on your kneejerk reaction, we would be better off if you moved to another state unless your post was meant as sarcasm in which case I say Well Done. 5. The article and report actually indicates need to improve rail and port infrastructure in direct contradiction to Shayla commentary. Specifically, recommendation is to consider passenger rail projects... 6. People have a voice with their elected officials. These are suggestions and do not represent "crony capitalism", etc. The report needs to be analyzed and the legislature can decide on priorities and spending. Don't like it, then vote in a new legislature but quit artificially creating issues where there are none! People need to sift through the politics and provide constructive criticism to the process rather than making uninformed comments in a public forum based on misinformation. IBJ should work harder to correct the record in these forums when blatant errors or misrepresentations are made.

  4. Joe ... Marriage is defined in the Bible ... it is mentioned in the Bible often. Marriage is not mentioned once in the US or Indiana Constitution ...

  5. Daniel - Educate me please: what does the Bible have to do with laws? If the government wasn't in the business of marriage to begin with, then it wouldn't have to "define" marriage at all. Marriage could be left as a personal, religious, or otherwise unregulated action, with no ties to taxes, legal status, etc. Then people could marry whomever they want, and all this silliness would go away. Remember to vote Libertarian in November.

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