More Hoosier students are using vouchers to attend private schools this year, but the program’s growth has slowed down in recent years, according to a new state report.
For the 2018-19 school year, fewer than 1,000 new students signed up for vouchers, bringing the state total to 36,290, up from 35,458 in 2017-18. That’s in contrast to dramatic growth early in the program’s history, when the number of students with vouchers more than doubled in 2013 and 2014. Since 2017, the program has grown by percentages in the single digits. Voucher students made up 3.18 percent of statewide school enrollment in 2019, largely flat over the past three years.
But Indiana is still home to one of the nation’s largest and broadest programs and could spend upwards of $160 million this year to pay for students’ private school tuition. This year, 329 schools are part of the program, up from 318 last year.
More students across nearly all racial and ethnic groups used vouchers in 2019, with larger jumps for Asian and Hispanic students. Most students who use vouchers are from urban areas, but a growing share are suburban — almost one-quarter of all voucher students.
While the number of students with disabilities using vouchers has grown, this year was the first time that there was a decrease in how many students elected to have their private school provide their special education services. Voucher students can choose whether to get services through their private school or the surrounding school district, with about 80 percent opting to use district services.
About 70 percent of voucher recipients come from families who qualify for free or reduced-price meals, are eligible for public benefits, or are in foster care. For those students, vouchers can be worth up to 90 percent of what public schools would have received in state funding.
The rest of the state’s students who receive vouches come from families with higher income, up to about $92,000 for a family of four. These students can qualify for vouchers up to 50 percent of their school’s state funding amount. Typically, these awards go to students with special needs or those who previously received a larger voucher but their family income increased.
In budget drafts currently up for debate, House Republicans are proposing Indiana set aside $4 million per year more to expand the state’s private school voucher program to increase funding for certain families above the poverty line. Under the plan, a family of four making between $46,000 and $58,000 annually could receive a voucher for 70 percent of what public schools would have received in state funding for the student. Currently, those families receive a 50 percent voucher.