Historic Rise in Indiana Private School Voucher Participation

Indiana reported a significant increase of about 32% in enrollment for its private school voucher program in the most recent academic year, marking a record single-year surge, as per the state’s latest voucher report.

The program, funded by the state, saw a record-breaking 70,095 students enrolled in the 2023-2024 school year, with costs to taxpayers amounting to $439 million — a substantial 40% increase compared to the $311 million spent on vouchers in the prior year.

Despite the increase in program costs, it was highlighted in the report that if all voucher users in Indiana had attended traditional public schools, the state’s education expenses would have been closer to $516 million because vouchers are funded at a lower level than public school funding levels.

Following the expansion of the Choice Scholarship Program in 2022, Indiana lawmakers further broadened the voucher system in 2023, making it almost universally accessible to nearly all families in Indiana.

Since the recent changes, the criteria for the scholarships — which enable families to receive vouchers for private school attendance — were expanded to include households with incomes up to 400% of the amount required for a student to be eligible for the federal free or reduced-price lunch program, equivalent to approximately $220,000.

Key Findings from the Latest Report

The latest state report released revealed that the increase in voucher participation was mainly driven by students from affluent families.

The average family income for a voucher student in 2023-24 stood at $99,121, marking a growth of over 20% from the previous year and surpassing the state’s median household income of around $67,000, according to the U.S. Census Bureau.

In the most recent cohort, close to 8,000 students originated from households with annual incomes ranging from $150,000 to $200,000, a notable increase from 2,800 in 2022-23.

The number of voucher students from families with incomes exceeding $200,000 surged significantly, almost tenfold, from 354 students in 2022-23 to approximately 3,700 in 2023-24.

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Across different income brackets, the data indicated that an additional 2,000 students belonged to families with incomes up to $50,000, while another 2,000 came from households earning between $50,000 and $100,000. Moreover, over 4,000 additional students originated from families with incomes ranging from $100,000 to $150,000, as per the report.

During the last academic year, two-thirds of voucher recipients had no prior enrollment in an Indiana public school, showcasing a 4% increase from 2022-23.

Overall, 6.1% of all students in Indiana’s public and private schools received vouchers in 2023-24, up from approximately 4.7% the previous year, according to the report.

The data illustrated that white students represented the majority of voucher users at 64%, while Hispanic students accounted for 17.3% and Black students comprised just under 9% of voucher participants.

The report specified that the average voucher award amount equaled $6,264, while the average tuition and fees at private schools were $7,749. Vouchers cover 90% of the state funding allocated to public school districts per student or the entirety of the tuition and fees, whichever is lower.

Efforts to Expand Vouchers Persist

Indiana has witnessed substantial growth in voucher participation since the program’s inception in 2011, when fewer than 4,000 students utilized a Choice Scholarship. Initially championed by then-Governor Mitch Daniels, the program aimed to offer alternatives to underperforming public schools for children from low-income families.

Presently, Indiana is one of 16 states with publicly funded voucher programs, as reported by EdChoice, an Indianapolis-based organization supporting voucher initiatives.

Nonetheless, critics have consistently contended that most Choice Scholarship students would attend private schools regardless of voucher availability, resulting in additional expenses for taxpayers and primarily benefiting the state’s wealthiest families.

Opposition to Choice Scholarship expansions persists among public school officials and teacher unions, who argue that the projected costs over the next two years will hamper funding increases for K-12 education in public schools. They also highlight state laws permitting voucher schools to refuse students based on factors such as religion, disability, sexual orientation, gender identity, or academic aptitude, as additional concerns.

Keith Gambill, president of the Indiana State Teachers Association.

In a statement released on Friday, the president of Indiana’s largest teachers’ union expressed profound apprehension about the surge in the private school voucher program over the past year.

“This expansion, extending vouchers to affluent families, directs public funds to those already capable of affording private education. This shift imposes a financial burden on the state without reducing public school expenses, undermining claims of state savings,” remarked Keith Gambill, president of the Indiana State Teachers Association (ISTA). “Rather than enabling wealthy families to send their children to private schools at the expense of public school students, we should be utilizing these tax dollars to invest in our public schools.”

Nevertheless, changes may be on the horizon for Indiana’s voucher system.

During the most recent legislative session in 2024, Sen. Ryan Mishler, R-Mishawaka, outlined a proposal for a complete transformation of Indiana’s private school voucher program into a grant system that would allow all Indiana families, regardless of income, to select their children’s educational institutions.

Although the proposed bill did not progress, discussions within the Statehouse foreshadow potential legislative action in 2025, when the General Assembly reconvenes to formulate the upcoming state budget.

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