Indiana Republicans resolute for school voucher expansion

Republican lawmakers remain resolute on their push for a big expansion of Indiana’s private school voucher program in the face of pushback from public school leaders across the state.

The Republican-dominated state Senate has not yet unveiled any revisions to the voucher expansion plan approved in February by the House, and which is projected to boost the program’s cost by nearly 50% over the next two years. More than 100 public school boards have approved resolutions against the expansion, which could consume nearly 40% of the total K-12 state funding increase touted by Republicans.

About the only doubt is how large of an expansion will make it through the Legislature in the coming weeks, despite the complete opposition from Democrats.

Senate President Pro Tem Rodric Bray of Martinsville said Republican senators have discussed the potential cost of the voucher expansion but remain firm with the GOP line that “money follows the child” and that the state is funding students, not schools.

“That’s how we’re going to continue to do this because we think that that ability for a parent to choose where his or her daughter or son goes is the best way forward,” Bray said.

Indiana started the program that provides state money to help families pay for private school tuition in 2011. In that time, it has grown from $16 million in payments for about 3,900 students to an estimated $174 million for some 37,000 students this school year.

The House-approved changes raising the family eligibility limits and increasing maximum payments for many families would boost participation by some 12,000 students, or about one-third, over the next two years and increase the cost nearly 50% to an estimated $258 million for the 2022-23 school year.

About 1 million students attend traditional public schools in the state.

Dozens of public and private school leaders and parents were among those who testified Thursday before a Senate committee about the funding plan.

Joseph Miller, principal at St. Adalbert Catholic School in South Bend, said the voucher expansion would allow many students to stay at his school. Miller said 90% of the school’s 220 students are Latino from low-income families, with almost all of them using vouchers to pay tuition.

“They chose us because we are safe, academically challenging and caring,” Miller said.

Indianapolis Public Schools Superintendent Aleesia Johnson joined other voucher expansion foes who maintain traditional public schools are being shortchanged with only about a 60% share of the state funding boost while educating about 90% of Indiana’s students.

“We have seen the state focus more on equality than equity,” Johnson said about Indiana’s student funding formula. “Can we say we are equitable in expanding voucher eligibility … when we know special education students and (English-learning) students’ funding remains stagnant, and we know those students need help?”

The House budget plan would increase the overall base funding for K-12 schools by 1.25% during the first year and 2.5% in the second year of the new budget that would start in July. That would mean about $378 million more for total school funding over the two years — with about $125 million possibly going to additional voucher costs and $19 million to a new program allowing parents to directly spend state money on their child’s education expenses

The voucher plan approved by the House would raise income eligibility for a family of four from the current roughly $96,000 a year to about $145,000 in 2022. It also would allow all those students to receive the full voucher amount, rather than the current tiered system that limits full vouchers to such families with incomes of about $48,000.

Public schools officials also worry that the Republican budget plan will hurt districts with high poverty rates by not increasing the extra per-student funding those districts receive, including for students with disabilities, English language learners and homeless students.

That extra funding has dropped 41% over the past five years—from $1,160 per student in 2014 to $693 last year, said David Marcotte, executive director of the Indiana Urban School Association.

“The funding needs to be increased for those high complexity schools so that children of high poverty can get what they need,” he said. “That’s why now is not the time to fund voucher expansion. The state of Indiana just can’t afford it because we can’t even afford appropriate funding for 90% of the students who attend traditional public schools.”

Senate and House negotiators will finalize a new state spending plan after a new tax revenue forecast is released in early April.

Republican House Speaker Todd Huston maintains that the turmoil in schools caused by the COVID-19 pandemic has highlighted the need for school choice options.

“I think this is the absolute right time to support parents’ ability to find the right schools for their kids,” Huston said. “I couldn’t imagine a better time to do it than right now.”

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7 thoughts on “Indiana Republicans resolute for school voucher expansion

  1. I have mixed feelings about the voucher system. More choice for families and students is always a good thing, but some of these private schools are going to take advantage of the system. And I have some serious questions about the efficacy of high schools in general, be it private or public.

    I am going to go on a tangent here, but I wish the state would help push more high school students into Ivy Tech earlier by expanding its dual credit program. There are so many great classes at Ivy Tech that any high school student who is proficient in reading comprehension and/or algebra would be qualified to take, and those classes would transfer to any state university. Getting students exposed to real college classes earlier – be it just one or a full-time schedule – will save students, families, and the taxpayer money, all while giving students a better education. It would also open up time more time for teachers to help students who struggle in reading comprehension and algebra.

    There is also no reason why students should take AP classes at their high school vs taking real college class at Ivy Tech. If you take chemistry at Ivy Tech, it transfers to all state universities. If you take AP Chemistry and pass with flying colors, many universities will not accept the credit. I know from first hand experience as a TA that many former AP Chem students who passed with flying colors struggle with the university equivalent to AP Chem. This holds true to for many AP classes – and I am willing to bet that most students in AP classes would be better off at Ivy Tech full time.

    1. I agree with a lot of what you said. The one thing I’d disagree with is taking AP classes vs Ivy Tech. My high school allowed me to take classes at Ivy Tech and go to high school half a day my senior year. The AP classes at my high school were significantly more challenging than anything at Ivy Tech, and better prepared me for my freshman year at Indiana. It’s nice that credits automatically transfer from Ivy Tech, but I don’t personally think community college prepares most students for a 4 year school. Obviously everyone’s experience will differ based on what high school they go to, but for me Ivy Tech was even easier than some of my non AP high school classes.

    2. My opinion is that a lot of AP classes and high school are unnecessarily hard and that difficulty doesn’t always translate to actually learning the content. There is a reason why state universities generally make students take the intro classes related to their major at a community college or university instead of transferring AP credit.

      The State’s “transfer core”, which is basically all freshman and sophomore classes, is pretty standardized between Ivy Tech and the universities. A lot of intro-level college classes, whether at Ivy Tech or at a state university, are just inherently easy. They do a great job of setting foundation knowledge without being overwhelming with unnecessary busy work – something high schools should learn from. My personal experience with the “transfer core” classes at Ivy Tech and a state university is that the expectations and level of difficulty is about the same.

      I also think that the “automatically transfer” thing is a huge deal. Ivy Tech’s dual credit program is free to students and students who pass classes are guaranteed to save $$$ on university. It’s a lot more hit-and-miss with AP classes and you have to pay for the exams.

    3. Once again, I agree with a lot of what you say. I’m simply saying that a lot of Ivy Tech courses could give students a false sense of confidence when going to a four year school. For example, my friend who took English Comp at Ivy Tech spent a whole month in class on learning how to form a thesis statement. This is something we learned in 7th or 8th grade at our middle school. When I took the equivalent class at IU, that wasn’t even taught to us. You were already supposed to know it.

      There’s no way you could pass anything like AP literature at my former high school and not get an A at Ivy Tech in an equivalent class. I could have aced every test and assignment my friend had done without attending one lecture. I think I am smart, but I certainly wasn’t someone who could have gotten into an Ivy League school. Ivy Tech just doesn’t seem much better to me than your mediocre suburban high school. It is definitely an improvement for students in impoverished urban and rural areas, but I don’t think it gives students a better education than AP classes at schools like Carmel, Zionsville, North Central, etc. It’s great for vocational training, but I don’t think it’s as good as it could be for preparing students for university.

  2. I am going to say something that may not be very popular, but the way Indiana uses my tax dollars through the voucher program to fund religious institutions (schools), and at the same time allow these schools to discriminate, is un-American. In addition, unlike a public school, there is are no minimum education requirements (civics, or science) for these religious organizations. We are getting tax payer funded religious indoctrination and or discrimination.

    At the same time, we are sucking the life and dollars out of the public school system to make SURE they fail. This is a disaster for the future of the state of Indiana.

    (sarcasm) I guess if Republican Lawmakers really are on a race to the bottom in educational attainment, and #38 is not good enough, I guess you have to try extra hard, and it may not pay off for a generation or two.

  3. Nearly all private schools receiving vouchers are religious schools which give enrollment preference to members of their own congregations and faith WITH TAXPAYER MONEY from everyone. All taxpayers have no way to hold religious schools accountable for this since voters have no right to vote on private school board members, no right to see their budgets, and no right to even learn when their school board meets.

    If private schools want public money, then transparency and accountability to the public as well as non-discrimination in enrollments and hiring should be required.
    As currently constructed, vouchers are taxation without representation, without accountability, and without equal opportunity.