Indiana – The 2022-23 academic year saw an unprecedented 20% expansion in Indiana’s private school voucher program, the most significant growth in almost a decade, as indicated by a recent report. The Indiana Department of Education’s yearly analysis of the Choice Scholarship Program revealed that state funds facilitated private school education for 53,262 students, a rise from 44,376 in the previous year.
Accompanying this increase in the voucher program’s student base, was an escalation in costs. The state spent a total of $311.8 million on the program for the 2022-23 school year, marking a 29% cost increment from the preceding year.
The number of voucher participants, along with the associated expenses, is projected to rise substantially in the coming fall, given the program’s recent expansion by state legislators. The revised program now grants accessibility to almost every Hoosier family, a shift expected to double the state’s spending on Choice Scholarships and boost student participation to approximately 95,000 by 2025. This expansion will cost taxpayers an estimated $1.1 billion over the next two years.
The voucher program, as it continues to scale up, is increasingly less likely to be associated with low-income assistance. In the 2022-23 academic year, only 28.1% of voucher households earned below $50,000, down from 37.4% in the previous year. The data reveals that households earning over $100,000 are more likely to receive vouchers than those under $50,000.
The President and CEO of EdChoice, Robert Enlow, commended Indiana’s efforts to fund families across various income brackets. It’s a really good thing to see this growth in the Choice program, and I expect it to grow even more next year.”
The latest statistics from the IDOE report reveal an unparalleled rise in student numbers since the 2014-2015 academic year. A total of 343 private schools, a majority of them Christian-based religious schools, participated in the program last year, an increase from the preceding year’s 330.
Despite the significant growth in the voucher program, the majority of Indiana’s K-12 students — over 87% — still attend traditional public schools. The percentage of students who had previously attended an Indiana public school at any point in their educational history increased for the first time since the program’s inception.
However, the voucher program has been subject to criticism, with detractors claiming that it mainly benefits wealthier families and poses an additional financial burden on taxpayers. Public school officials and teachers unions have expressed concerns about the program’s expansion, pointing out its projected cost over the next two years might hinder funding increases for public schools. They also draw attention to the state law permitting voucher schools to refuse students based on religion, disability, sexual orientation, gender identity, or academic ability, among other factors.
The massive expansion of the state’s voucher program, approved by Indiana’s Republican-controlled legislature in April, signals a potential cost of around $500 million in the fiscal year 2024, and another $600 million in the following fiscal year. As a result of the changes, nearly all students will now qualify for private school subsidies, leading to an expected increase in participation by roughly 42,000 additional students within two years.
School choice advocates, like Enlow, celebrate these developments as a significant step towards offering every student the option of a publicly-funded private education. “There is radically more growth to be had. The reality is we’re getting very close to a system where all dollars follow our kids,” he said.