The Journal Gazette
Thursday, April 14, 2016 10:03 pm

School voucher numbers soaring

Jamie Duffy | The Journal Gazette

Indiana’s school voucher program has grown since its inception from 3,911 students in 2011 to 32,686 this school year, while public school enrollment has dropped by more than 8,000, according to a report issued Thursday by the Indiana Department of Education.

In Allen County, there are 6,098 students in the school choice program.

For Fort Wayne Community Schools, where enrollment is about 30,000, there are nearly 5,000 voucher students, according to the report.

In 2011, that number was 394.

The report counts 4,684 voucher students living in the boundaries of FWCS. East Allen County Schools has 902 students who attend voucher schools; Southwest Allen County Schools, 228; and Northwest Allen County Schools, 224.

School experts caution that some of those students might have had no intention to attend public schools; the number is a Department of Education calculation. 

The report estimates financial loss for public school districts based on the number of students living in the district who attend voucher schools, money that will not be recovered.

For this year, the state has calculated voucher hits for the four county districts – FWCS, $19 million; EACS, $3 million; SACS, $710,000; and NACS, $674,000.

"Public schools do take a hit from the standpoint (that the voucher program) has reduced the number of students attending public schools and therefore reduced the associated funding," said Kirby Stahly, East Allen’s assistant superintendent of administrative services.   

In defense of the voucher program, Betsy Wiley, president of Hoosiers for a Quality Education, a pro-school-choice organization in Indianapolis, said public schools receive an average of $6,600 per student while the voucher schools receive about $4,300 per student.

The report also noted the higher rate of voucher growth in suburban areas than in metropolitan areas and a declining percentage of black students compared with Hispanic and white students. White-student participation in the voucher program stayed the same at about 61 percent.

State investment in the voucher program has gone from about $16 million in 2011 to nearly $113 million for the 2014-15 school year. Total voucher amounts for 2015-16 will be available in June.

In Allen County, the amount of voucher money went up at nearly every participating school. Most of the voucher schools are Roman Catholic, Lutheran or other Christian.

This year, the highest amount – $2.8 million – went to Horizon Christian Academy, which operates three campuses in Fort Wayne with a total of about 650 students.

Three local parochial high schools also received more voucher money than last year.

Concordia Lutheran High School has 366 students, out of 772, participating in the voucher program and received $1.63 million.

At Bishop Dwenger, with an enrollment of 1,069, a total of 422 students accessed voucher money for a total of $1.83 million.

At Bishop Luers High School, $1.63 million was dispensed for 343 vouchers students out of an enrollment of 592.

St. Charles Borromeo topped the list of voucher money at about $1.5 million for middle and elementary schools with 408 students participating out of an enrollment of 784.

St. Jude had 304 out of 501 students participating and accessed $1.1 million, and Blackhawk Christian Elementary School accessed $848,000 for 209 students out of 367 students. 

Julia Hollingsworth, FWCS board vice president, said the increased voucher investment should make voters think again about the program.

"The public and voters need to decide – do they want tax money spent for schools that are not accountable to the public, that don’t make their decisions or board meetings open to the public?" Hol­lings­worth said.

"This voucher program was sold as a way to save money. That’s not true anymore. The voucher program is costing the state more tax money."

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