Report: Indiana Has Top School Voucher Program In The U.S.
Teacher's union leader says program still costs the state too much
Aug. 27, 2014
A new report says Indiana has the best school voucher program in the country, though the report probably will not silence the critics of school choice.
Almost 20,000 students participated in Indiana's Choice Scholarship program last school year, where students received a taxpayer-funded voucher to pay a portion of their cost for private school. Indiana's program scored 31 points out of a possible 50 in the first ever rankings from the Center For Education Reform, a pro-school choice group based in Washington. "Indiana really has become the reformiest state when it comes to addressing the needs of students and their families," said Kara Kerwin, the Center's president. "With the universal voucher program that's open to all students, it ranks really, really high."
Indiana's score narrowly edged voucher programs in Ohio and Wisconsin, which each scored 30. Voucher programs in Washington D.C., North Carolina and Arizona were next at 27 points each.
Indiana received high marks for making school vouchers available to a large number of potential students. The state allows families making up to 150-percent of the income level to qualify for free or reduced-price lunch to qualify for a voucher - 200-percent for families with a special needs student or for those who received a voucher the year before. Unlike some states, children do not have to be assigned to a failing school or school district to qualify, and Kerwin believes school choice is helpful even in areas with highly rated public schools. "One size does not fit all. Our children really do learn differently, so it's important that our students have opportunities so they can excel no matter where they are."
The main area where Indiana received low marks from the reform group was on providing autonomy for private schools. The Center's report criticized the state for what it said was "mandating such things as course content and insisting on allowing government observation of classes." "The beauty of independent schools and private schools and the reason why so many parents want to send their children there is the autonomy," Kerwin said.
Teresa Meredith, president of the Indiana State Teachers Association and longtime critic of school vouchers, says it sounds as if private schools getting voucher money don't want any accountability from the state. She also cited a recent Department of Education report that said the voucher program cost the state $16 million last school year, though that figure was disputed by school choice supporters. "Our local schools are feeling the effects, the results of moving so much money out of the school funding piece over to vouchers," Meredith said. Just under $81 million in voucher money was distributed by the state in the 2013-14 school year.