The Indiana state voucher program is in its second year and appears to be gaining momentum. This time last year 3,900 students had signed up to use taxpayer money to attend private schools; this year the figure has already exceeded 5,000.
The voucher system allows parents to send their children to any of the 270 participating schools using state funds, a number that has also risen since last year. North Liberty Christian School is one of the new participants accepting vouchers and currently has 25 students from kindergarten through 6th grade. Administrator Adrian Baker is enthusiastic:
“I think North Liberty Christian School is a wonderful school,” said Baker. “We have always said if we can get you into our doors, we feel like you would be sold to it.”
While Baker is excited that the families have this opportunity, for school choice opponents there is a damaging flipside. For every student that chooses a private school education over the public school option, the public school loses the funding attached to the child. In South Bend School Corporation for example, the district loses over $6,000 for every child who departs for greener pastures.
Last year, more than 600 students left the South Bend schools. Superintendent Carole Schmidt says about 300 of those were because of the voucher program. The district took a loss of nearly $2 million.
“If we lose 617 kids again this year, we are looking at close to $5 million,” said Carole Schmidt. “That is a problem for us.”
One of the main complaints from districts and officials such as Schmidt is that the new system makes planning and budgeting almost impossible. Pink slip notices have to be distributed by July 1st but the district can only budget and staff based on last year’s figures not knowing the current situation.
But for Baker, it isn’t a competition. “It is a preference: Do you want a private, religious education or don’t you?” said Baker.
This view also has evidence in the exit surveys carried out by Schmidt and hear team, with many parents citing the desire for a Christian education to be their main motivation in taking advantage of the voucher program.
While the increasing secularization of public education means that South Bend can’t compete effectively for these students, it is unveiling a multi-media marketing campaign in July in an effort to stop the hemorrhaging of students and their attached funding.