Enrollment in Indiana’s voucher program more than doubled in its second year, with 9,324 families signing up to participate in 2012-13.
The Indiana Department of Education released voucher enrollment numbers Tuesday, on the eve of an Indiana Supreme Court hearing Wednesday challenging the voucher program's constitutionality.
Last year Indiana administered the largest first-year voucher program in the nation’s history, the Choice Scholarship Program, with 3,919 families participating. The cap on enrollment in the voucher program for the first year was 7,500 students; this year, the cap is 15,000, and thereafter an unlimited number of students may enroll in private schools.
Indiana’s voucher program allows students to use public dollars to send their children to nonpublic schools. Students qualify for one of two scholarship levels based on their total family income and federal free and reduced-cost lunch participation requirements.
In Lake and Porter counties, 1,022 students have taken advantage of the state voucher program during the last couple of years.
The School City of Hammond and the Gary Community School Corp. lost the most students to private schools, at 272 and 270, respectively, over the last couple of years. East Chicago rounded out the top three list with 175 students transferring to private schools.
Despite the number of students lost to vouchers, Gary Superintendent Cheryl Pruitt said the business of educating students must continue.
"For the Gary Community School Corp., it means engaging in candid conversations that cause the administration to take a hard look at factors like the voucher program that will impact the bottom line," Pruitt said. "It means looking for smarter ways to answer budgetary challenges, such as reviewing the financial plan, competing for grants like Race to the Top, aligning the number of employees with the student population based on educational needs (and) looking for other educational opportunities for parents and students."
The Merrillville Community School Corp. came in at No. 4 in the region, losing eight students to private schools last year and 95 students this year.
Gary's Ambassador Christian Academy marked the second consecutive year with the highest number of students in the region to enroll using vouchers. This year 159 students are enrolled at the school. The school is slated to receive $709,743 from the state.
St. Stanislaus School in East Chicago has the largest number of students in the Catholic Diocese of Gary who have transferred using vouchers, numbering 114 students. It will receive $491,603.
Indiana Superintendent of Public Instruction Tony Bennett said Hoosier families made "powerful" choices for their children, choices that were made possible by Indiana’s commitment to educational options for all students, regardless of background, income or ZIP code.
Bennett, a Republican, lost the Nov. 6 election to Indianapolis educator Glenda Ritz, a Democrat, who campaigned against policies including the school voucher program, which opponents say undermine public education. Ritz will become the state's superintendent of public instruction Jan. 1.
Overall, 81 percent of students using vouchers come from Indiana’s most impoverished households and qualify for the larger scholarship. In addition, 48 percent of participating students come from minority households and 66 percent come from urban areas. In total, 34 percent of enrolled students come from suburban, rural and township communities.
Of the number of students who are using the vouchers across the state, 4,817 students are white, 1,922 are black, 1,736 are Hispanic, 655 are multiracial, 156 are Asian, 27 are American Indian/Alaskan Native and 11 are Native Hawaiian or Other Pacific Islander.
The number of schools participating in the voucher program this year increased to 289, from 241 in 2011-12.
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.