Indiana Voucher Program Doubles in Size, Unions Oppose It

Indiana, which has the one of the largest voucher programs in America, reports that over 9,000 people have applied to participate in the program for the 2012-2013 school year. That is more the double the number of applicants the program attracted in its first year.

The initiative, called the School Choice Scholarship Program, allows families to get up to 90% of their per-student funding allotment and put it towards tuition payments at private schools, dependent on their income. The money comes from tax revenues collected by the state and add up to less than the per-student allocation to the public school system. This year, the maximum that students in first through eighth grade may receive is $4,500.

The number of schools that take vouchers has also grown over the last year from 241 to 289.

But despite its popularity, the program remains under judicial threat as the Indiana Supreme Court gears up to hear arguments from plaintiffs that allege the SCSP is unconstitutional. The lawsuit, supported in part by the Indiana State Teachers Association, claims that the program violates the constitution by directing state money towards religious institutions. According to IndyStar.com, the majority of the schools that accept vouchers are religious in nature.

“When you look at the dollars coming into program, those are coming right off the top of money going to our public schools,” said Teresa Meredith, ISTA vice president and a plaintiff in the lawsuit. “I see that as a real concern.”

According to the numbers released by the Indiana Department of Education, 9,324 students signed up for vouchers for the coming year, which makes it the faster growing voucher program in the country. State officials say that they’ve realized more than $4.2 million in savings since the program was created. The money saved via the voucher program is subsequently diverted towards other public schools in the state.

The growth could be attributed to the exceptionally lenient requirements that make a large number of families eligible for vouchers. Students from a family of four with a combined annual income over $42,000 or less can receive up to 90% of their per-student state funding allowance. Those whose income falls between $42,000 and $62,000 are eligible for up to 50%.

This year, the program is capped to a maximum of 15,000 participants, but the cap expires next year unless lawmakers choose to renew it or set a new one.

Indiana Superintendent of Public Instruction Tony Bennett, defeated in the Nov. 6 election, hailed the state program’s popularity as demonstrating that kids need avenues to attend the schools that best serve their needs.

“Simply put, we are providing our neediest families options they’ve never had before, and they’re taking advantage of the opportunity to select schools that work best for their children,” he said.