Education Week - March 25, 2015 - 6
Eligibility Rules Fuel Growth of Indiana's Voucher Program
By Arianna Prothero
Participation in Indiana's
voucher program has exploded
since it launched less than four
years ago, putting the state
on the leading edge of private
This year, nearly 30,000 students
in Indiana are attending
private schools with the help of
vouchers, a number that puts it
among a small pack of states offering
this controversial school
choice option that provides taxpayer
dollars to families to help
pay for private schools, most of
But none has taken off quite as
fast as Indiana's.
There are several clear-cut reasons
that have to do with students'
eligibility for Indiana's program that
help explain why it has grown so
quickly. Primary among them: New
rules qualify about half the state's
schoolchildren for tuition vouchers,
according to the Indianapolis-based
Friedman Foundation for Educational
Choice, a research and advocacy
But other, less obvious factors
also have contributed to the program's
proliferation, including a
relatively speedy jaunt through the
court system after its legality was
challenged, and policies adopted by
some of the state's private schools
prior to the program's launch.
"There's a degree of political timidity
to bold reforms, or reforms
as bold as school choice vouchers,"
said Brian Backstrom, a senior
policy adviser with the Center for
Education Reform, a Washingtonbased
school choice research and
advocacy group. He said policymakers
tend to dip their toes into
the water with limited voucher programs.
"Indiana did a big splash."
An Indiana Department of Education
report released last month
further details the rapid growth of
the voucher program: A little more
than 29,000 Indiana students use
vouchers to attend private schools
this school year, a 47 percent increase
from last year.
That's a big jump, but it's dwarfed
by growth in previous years. The program
debuted with 3,900 students in
2011-12. The number of participating
students soared the next year by 134
percent, and climbed again by 117
percent in 2013-14.
No other voucher program, or
any type of private-school-choice
initiative launched since 2011, has
reached the scale of Indiana's, according
to data from the Friedman
Other states with similar numbers
of students participating in
one or more voucher programs-
such as Florida, Ohio, and Wisconsin-have
had at least one
program in place since the early
2000s. And some of those states,
most notably Florida, have sizable
which provide tax benefits to businesses
and individuals that donate
money to support scholarships to
private schools. But those also
have been around for a while.
There's a degree of political timidity to bold reforms, or reforms as bold as
school choice vouchers. Indiana did a big splash."
Center for Education Reform
During the voucher program's
brief existence, Indiana policymakers
have been steadily expanding
eligibility, and now roughly half of
all the state's 1.1 million schoolchildren
State lawmakers raised the
threshold on income eligibility.
A family of four with an annual
household income of up to $67,200
would be eligible under most circumstances.
For families with a
child with disabilities, their annual
income can be even higher.
The legislators also removed the
cap on the number of students who
about that latest change, which
has significantly altered the makeup
of students in the program.
"Initially, the bill was passed so
that you would have to at least go
to your local public school first,"
said Teresa Meredith, the president
of the Indiana State Teachers
Association. "That was so that the
public school had the opportunity
to show the parents what they had
to offer. But now what we're seeing,
as much as 51 percent of students
statewide who are using a voucher
have never been to a public school.
That is just staggering to me."
Additionally, the percentage of
white students using vouchers has
also climbed, while the participation
of African-American, Hispanic
and other minority students has
dropped. Currently, 61 percent of
voucher students are white, 16 percent
are Hispanic, and 14 percent
Quick Legal Resolution
And expansions to the program's
eligibility might be costing the
state more money. According to
numbers first released by the state
education department last June,
the new eligibility rules cost the
state an additional $16 million in
the 2013-14 school year, compared
to the first two years that vouchers
were offered, and saved the state
around $4 million a year.
Those savings came from stricter eligibility
and the fact that the voucher
scholarships are less than the state's
per-pupil spending level for public
schools, among other factors.
In total, voucher students were
eligible to receive almost $116
million in tuition this school year,
compared to $81 million last year.
Compared to other states, the
voucher program's relatively quick
trip through Indiana's courts-
a lawsuit was filed by the state
teachers' union in July 2011 and
resolved by March 2013-didn't
"In other states, the lawsuits
lingered in court," said Robert C.
Enlow, the president and chief executive
officer of the Friedman
Foundation for Educational Choice.
"They have to say, 'You're eligible,
but there's a lawsuit, and it
6 | EDUCATION WEEK | March 25, 2015 | www.edweek.org
programs, the first of which was
launched in 1996. Each program
has different eligibility requirements
based on needs or location.
"That's a little daunting for families
right up front," said Mr. Backstrom.
"Ohio's approach has been that when
there's parental demand for a voucher
program, they've created one. It's not
a bad thing; it's just easier to have one
universal program and then expand."
Finally, for private schools in
other states, accepting voucher
students means complying with
a bundle of state regulations. In
Indiana's case, many of its private
schools voluntarily opted into
an unusual state-accreditation
program before lawmakers ever
passed the voucher bill.
That meant those schools were
already doing things like administering
state tests, making the transition
to accepting voucher students
much easier, said Mr. Enlow. As far
as the Friedman Foundation is
aware, Indiana is the only voucher
state with such an accreditation
program for its private schools.
But some school choice advocates,
like Mr. Backstrom, worry
that the amount of state oversight
might ultimately curb the supply
of private schools willing to participate,
and therefore stifle the
Indiana not only requires schools
that accept voucher students to
take state tests; it also demands
thorough reporting from schools
and sends government officials
to observe classrooms-the only
voucher state to do so, according to
But both Mr. Backstrom and
Mr. Enlow are optimistic the program
will grow, as long as there
are enough private schools to meet
"The voucher program has done
a great job of filling empty seats in
schools," said Mr. Enlow. "The issue
is: How do we build new high-quality
seats in new [private] schools?"
Coverage of parent-empowerment
issues is supported by a grant from
the Walton Family Foundation, at
Education Week retains sole editorial
control over the content of this
can participate and made vouchers
available to students who were
already enrolled in private schools.
In 2013, a new state law made students
zoned to schools graded F in
the state's accountability system
eligible for vouchers even if they
had never attended their local district
Opponents are very worried
may all come crashing down.' It's
a barrier to parents, which is, in
my opinion, why the unions use
Indiana's program also benefits
from being the only one in
the state, said Mr. Backstrom.
He points to Ohio, which also has
about 30,000 voucher students,
but who are spread among five
Education Week - March 25, 2015
Table of Contents for the Digital Edition of Education Week - March 25, 2015
Education Week - March 25, 2015
Civics Tests for Diplomas Gain Traction
For Education Next, Views With An Edge
Employers Integral To Career Studies
Experience Seen as Boost For Teachers
Elite Private Schools Tackle Ed Tech
News in Brief
Eligibility Rules Fuel Growth Of Indiana’s Voucher Program
States Should Play Role in Fostering Engagement, Report Says
Teacher-Leadership Movement Gets Boost From Ed. Dept.
Blogs of the Week
Nonprofits Link Businesses To Career-Tech Programs
At Beaver Country Day, Investing In Innovation
Special Education Task Force Urges Overhaul for California
Gov. Cuomo’s Budget Sparks Backlash in N.Y.
Fight Looms on Kansas Plan To Fund K-12 Via Block Grants
Blogs of the Week
Why School Policies Need to Be Fine-Tuned
Which ‘Common Core’ Are We Talking About?
What Will Be the Impact of the Assessments?
More Educator Voices on Common-Core Implementation
Overcoming ‘Initiative Fatigue’
TopSchoolJobs Recruitment Marketplace
Breaking the Code of the Common Core
Education Week - March 25, 2015 - Elite Private Schools Tackle Ed Tech
Education Week - March 25, 2015 - 2
Education Week - March 25, 2015 - Contents
Education Week - March 25, 2015 - News in Brief
Education Week - March 25, 2015 - Report Roundup
Education Week - March 25, 2015 - Eligibility Rules Fuel Growth Of Indiana’s Voucher Program
Education Week - March 25, 2015 - 7
Education Week - March 25, 2015 - States Should Play Role in Fostering Engagement, Report Says
Education Week - March 25, 2015 - Teacher-Leadership Movement Gets Boost From Ed. Dept.
Education Week - March 25, 2015 - Blogs of the Week
Education Week - March 25, 2015 - 11
Education Week - March 25, 2015 - Nonprofits Link Businesses To Career-Tech Programs
Education Week - March 25, 2015 - 13
Education Week - March 25, 2015 - 14
Education Week - March 25, 2015 - At Beaver Country Day, Investing In Innovation
Education Week - March 25, 2015 - 16
Education Week - March 25, 2015 - Gov. Cuomo’s Budget Sparks Backlash in N.Y.
Education Week - March 25, 2015 - Blogs of the Week
Education Week - March 25, 2015 - 19
Education Week - March 25, 2015 - 20
Education Week - March 25, 2015 - 21
Education Week - March 25, 2015 - Which ‘Common Core’ Are We Talking About?
Education Week - March 25, 2015 - 23
Education Week - March 25, 2015 - More Educator Voices on Common-Core Implementation
Education Week - March 25, 2015 - Overcoming ‘Initiative Fatigue’
Education Week - March 25, 2015 - Letters
Education Week - March 25, 2015 - TopSchoolJobs Recruitment Marketplace
Education Week - March 25, 2015 - 28
Education Week - March 25, 2015 - 29
Education Week - March 25, 2015 - 30
Education Week - March 25, 2015 - 31
Education Week - March 25, 2015 - Breaking the Code of the Common Core
Education Week - March 25, 2015 - CT1
Education Week - March 25, 2015 - CT2
Education Week - March 25, 2015 - CT3
Education Week - March 25, 2015 - CT4