Indiana Vouchers Spur an Unintended Migration

 
Parents of nearly 4,000 students in Indiana have moved their children to private schools under a new state voucher system. But ironically, the law has led some parents to do just the opposite.

According to The (Fort Wayne) Journal Gazette, some parents in private schools have moved their children to public schools in hopes of qualifying for vouchers in the future. Receiving a voucher to return back to private school again could save a family as much as $40,000 over a child's K-12 academic career.

The Indiana voucher program is considered the nation's most expansive. It is open to students statewide and with broader income eligibility than programs in most other states, which usually cater to needy students in poorly performing schools. A family of 4 with income up to $62,021 would be eligible for some support. Students are required to have either attended public schools for at least two semesters before applying or have received a state-approved scholarship for private school.
Moving from private to public school in the hopes of qualifying for future voucher money is permissible under the law, says Stephanie Sample, a spokeswoman for the Indiana Department of Education, but she doesn't think the practice is widespread among parents. "If they want a better education for their kids," Sample says, "they're not going to pull their kids from a school that's great."

Sample says that demand for the vouchers exceeded the department's expectations and that the program will likely be tweaked as it continues to be implemented in the future.

Milwaukee was a pioneer in the voucher movement, launching a citywide program in 1990. Wisconsin laws don't require that students first attend public school, so the issue hasn't cropped up there, says Patrick Gasper, a spokesman for the Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction. Education experts contacted by Stateline say they haven't heard of similar examples elsewhere, either.

Implementation of the Indiana program comes as other states, such as Pennsylvania, are moving toward statewide voucher programs and as voucher programs elsewhere have broadened eligibility beyond needy students in poorly performing schools.

"We've really seen a shift in the past 10 years," says Alexandra Usher, a research assistant at the Center on Education Policy, who examined developments in voucher policy for a report released this summer. "There was definitely an expansion of the intended audience in the programs."
 
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