School voucher program draws early interest

July 14, 2011

About 385 families have requested state tuition assistance at private schools since July 11, when the Indiana Department of Education started accepting applications for its new voucher program.

The DOE is in the process of sending acceptance letters to those families, said spokesman Alex Damron.

Legislators passed a law enabling vouchers this year, allowing students from low- and middle-income families to seek state funds to help pay the cost of attending private schools. 

Students must select the private school they want to attend from a list of state-approved schools, Damron said. More than 125 schools have applied to participate in the voucher program, and most have been accepted.

Schools apply for a voucher on the student’s behalf, using some information provided by parents. Money goes directly from the state to the school with parent authorization to disburse it.

“We’re encouraged so many families have reached out during the first week of the student application process,” Damron said, adding that the number of schools participating will provide families with a wide variety of options.

The state’s voucher law—the broadest in the nation—has drawn the ire of groups such as teachers unions and Indiana House Democrats, who cited the measure as one of the reasons behind their five-week Statehouse walkout last session. Among their biggest beefs is that the law transfers public funds to some schools with religious affiliations.

Many of the roughly 117 schools already on the state’s voucher list have a religious affiliation.

Last month, a group that included members of the Indiana State Teachers Association, as well as teachers, school administrators and some clergy, filed a lawsuit seeking to block the law, saying it violates the state’s Constitution.

Through the law, the state will provide tuition assistance equal to a percentage of the money a public school district would have spent on educating the student: 90 percent of the district’s per-pupil expenditure for families of four making $41,000, and 50 percent for families of four earning about $61,000.

Spending is capped at $4,500 per year for students in first through eighth grades.

Damron said there is no deadline for schools or students to apply for the program, though the number of participants will be capped at 7,500 students this year.

Students who enter the program later in the school year will receive assistance that is based on a pro-rated amount of state funding.


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