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Indiana voucher program leads to reverse transfers

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Indiana's new school voucher law has prompted some parents to pull their children out of private schools and put them in public schools for a year so that they can become eligible for the state-funded program.

About $16 million in state money is being used to pay for nearly 4,000 students to attend private schools under the voucher program that started this fall.

St. Charles Borromeo Catholic School in Fort Wayne gained 24 students from the voucher program this fall. But Principal Rob Sordelet told The Journal Gazette that 15 students were withdrawn to spend a year in public schools and then return.

The law generally requires that students have attended public school for a year to be eligible for a voucher. Indiana's voucher program is the most expansive 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 have an annual income up to $62,000 and still qualify for tuition assistance.

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.

That could save parents up to $40,000 in tuition costs per child through high school, with the average voucher worth $4,150 this year.

"It is a tough decision for families, and we had some nice discussions about it," Sordelet said. "You have to do what's best for your family."

Republican House Speaker Brian Bosma, who sponsored the voucher bill this year, said legislators discussed such actions by parents and will have to monitor its impact.

The state previously was not responsible for education funding in private schools, meaning this swap could cost the state more money.

Public schools will have a chance to persuade those transfer families to stay, said Bosma, R-Indianapolis.

"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."

Fort Wayne Community Schools 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."

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