Supporters of the Indiana voucher program can now claim it a success after the first year saw 4,000 students take advantage of the money to enroll in private schools. That number enrolling this year has already exceeded that of last year by 800 students, with the deadline to sign up for the program still months in the future.
The law that created the program, which passed in 2011, also made it one of the most liberal in the nation, with some of the broadest income windows and without the restriction that a student's district public school be failing in order to participate. In all, Indiana spent nearly $15.5 million dollars last year to fund the $4,150 vouchers, which were spent primarily in private parochial schools. The attrition rate for voucher students was also lower than expected, with only 327 total leaving the program during the course of the year. If a voucher student leaves a private school, the money is refunded back to the state on a pro-rated basis.
Bishop Luers High School which admitted 58 voucher students last year, only lost 4 or 5 students. According to the school's principal Mary Keefer, while some decided that the school environment wasn't right for them, some were asked to leave since they couldn't meet the academic standards set by the school administrators.
Julie Nieveen, of Warsaw, used a voucher this year for her 13-year-old daughter, Ellie. She said all her other children had gone to public elementary and then Lakeland Christian Academy for middle and high school. She said that for rest of Ellie's K-12 career, the family could see savings of $25,000 under the voucher program.
Although the voucher program is being challenged in court, on the grounds that it violates the separation between church and state by allowing public money to be spent on religious instruction, School Choice Indiana, the group that shepherded the voucher legislation through the Indiana legislature, counts its first year as an unqualified success. Lindsey Brown, the group's president, said that the next priority is to expand the program to kindergartners and completely remove all income limits, allowing all Indiana families to participate if they choose.
The Indiana program isn't the only school choice initiative celebrating a milestone this year. According to a report by the Center for School Change, over the last ten years, the number of Minnesota students enrolling in charter schools has increased four-fold. During the same period, enrollment in public schools dropped by nearly 5%.
Director Joe Nathan says the center has no position on which schools are better. He says he believes charter schools are growing because they offer distinctive programs parents want. Nathan also says he thinks some families are attracted to them because charters tend to be smaller, often cater to non-English speakers and have helped students of color improve performance.