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School vouchers having little impact locallyPosted Monday, November 26, 2012, at 1:42 PM
There was plenty of rhetorical chatter in the recent General Election about the state's educational reforms -- particularly about the school voucher program.
Many public school administrators, teachers and the Indiana State Teacher's Association have cried foul because an increasing number of parents are opting to send their children to non-public schools using a state-funded voucher to cover most of the tuition costs.
State Superintendent of Public Instruction Tony Bennett championed broad education reforms the past four years. However, he was defeated in the General Election by Democrat Glenda Ritz, who's a former board member of the Indiana State Teachers Association, which has fought many of the reforms.
ISTA says school vouchers violate the state constitution because they direct taxpayer money to religion-affiliated schools, money that otherwise would have gone to public schools.
The program's defenders, including the Indiana Attorney General's office, say parents are free to send their children and direct the money to pay tuition at any school they want - public, private or parochial.
A Marion County court upheld the law in January.
Figures released last week by the Indiana Department of Education show that enrollment in Indiana's Choice Scholarship Program, commonly known as the school voucher program, more than doubled this year, it's second year, with 9,324 families signing up to participate in 2012-13.
Last year, Indiana administered the largest first-year voucher program in the nation's history, with 3,919 families choosing schools that meet their children's individual academic needs.
The controversial program administered by the Indiana Department of Education allows parents to decide which school to send their student - regardless of background, income or ZIP code.
However, the program has had only minimal effect on the five Greene County school districts.
Eastern Greene is the only local public school district that lost any students to the voucher program with six using vouchers this year.
Students qualify for one of two scholarship levels based on their total family income as well as federal free and reduced lunch participation requirements.
Students who qualify for free or reduced lunches can receive up to 90 percent of the tuition support from the school corporation in which they live. This figure is capped at $4,500 at the elementary and middle school level.
Families whose total income does not exceed 150 percent of the amount required to qualify for reduced lunches are also eligible for the scholarship. These students receive 50 percent of the tuition support from the school corporation in which they reside.
Students from lower income families have accounted for 81 percent of participating students, according to a recent DOE news release.
Indianapolis Public Schools had the largest share using vouchers -- 947, followed by Fort Wayne 921, South Bend 555, Gary and Hammond with 251 each and Evansville-Vanderburgh County with 246.
In our region, Monroe County had 53, Vincennes 22, Clay Community 8, North Knox 5, South Knox 3, North Daviess 2 and Spencer-Owen 1.
Jasper, a heavily Catholic community in Dubois County, had 12.
The number of schools participating in the voucher program increased from 241 to 289.
Participating schools must be accredited, administer state assessments and be graded on an A to F scale - just like all traditional public schools and public charter schools.
The voucher program remains in court with no timeline for a decision on its legality from the Indiana Supreme Court.
The high court heard arguments last Wednesday on a challenge to the 2011 law.
The state has argued the indirect route, contending that the voucher program was designed to put school choice money into the hands of parents. Where parents took that tuition money was up to them. The state, therefore, had no direct control over which schools - parochial, charter or a public school outside the home district - received those students and that money.
The plaintiffs argued that the Indiana Constitution prohibited sending state money to religious-based schools.
The U.S. Supreme Court already has ruled that vouchers are constitutional so long as parents have other, nonreligious public or private school options, as is the case in Indiana.
I support the state voucher program and see nothing wrong with sending children to the school best matched for their educational needs.
All schools are not the same.
I do, however, have concerns about transfers from a public school to a private school for athletic reasons. The results of past weekend's state football championships may echo that concern.
Lafayette Central Catholic (1A) and Fort Wayne Bishop Luers (2A) each claimed a record fourth straight crown while Indianapolis Bishop Chatard (3A) and Indianapolis Cathedral (4A) each won their third in a row.
In fact, six of the 10 state finalist teams were parochial schools.
It might be time for a parochial division state tournament on the gridiron.
Nick is assistant editor for the Greene County Daily World. He can be reached by telephone at 847-4487 or 1-800-947-4487 or by e-mail at email@example.com. Follow Nick on Twitter @GCDWSchneider .
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