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Indiana voucher program returns $5M to public schools

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Indiana's growing school voucher program is resulting in a modest gain for the state's public schools.

The Indiana Department of Education announced Wednesday that $5 million is owed the state's schools because of savings achieved through school vouchers.

The state spends less money on students receiving vouchers than for public school students, and the difference is returned to public schools. The 2011 law creating the state's voucher program also mandated the DOE annually calculate how much money was saved through vouchers and report it to the state's budget leaders.

Melissa Ambre, DOE director of school finance, wrote in a memo to members of the State Budget Committee, that even though there was roughly $5 million saved, the state only had enough money to return $3.3 million to schools.

Voucher supporters have said the savings prove vouchers are good for Indiana's public schools as well as private schools. The Friedman Foundation for Educational Choice, which has led the drive for vouchers, determined in a February study that any voucher under $8,000 improves a public school's finances.

But opponents, led by the state's teachers unions, have said the state is still spending less on public schools than before the recession.

"Public schools aren't getting the money that's been cut from the budget," said Rick Muir, president of the American Federation of Teachers-Indiana. "They can claim that all they want, but public schools are receiving much less funding than they have prior to vouchers."

State lawmakers approved a biennial budget last month that spends an additional $300 million on schools over the next two years but also spends more for an expansion of the voucher program. Efforts to expand the state's voucher program further, to cover students already enrolled in private schools and others, stalled this year amid concerns over how much more it would cost the state.

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