More than 29,000 people submitted applications to enroll with vouchers during the 2014-15 school year, Department of Education Spokesman Daniel Altman said.
Not everyone who submitted an application is guaranteed a voucher, but the quantity of applications this year is still an increase over the close to 19,800 Indiana students enrolled using vouchers in the 2013-14 school year.
Through the program, parents can apply to direct a portion of the state funding that would pay for their child’s education to a school of their choosing instead. Some parents use the voucher funding to enroll their children at a private or charter school.
According to the Center for Education Reform, a pro-voucher organization, the number of students in Indiana’s voucher program has doubled each year since it was instituted.
Indiana’s voucher program was passed by the Indiana General Assembly in 2011. Conditions for eligibility are considered less strict than in other state programs, partly because students can be eligible whether or not they are currently attending a failing school, according to the Center for Education Reform.
According to the Indiana Department of Education, Indiana students ages five to 22 have several different claims to receive a voucher, including financial need, disability, attending a failing school or having received a voucher the previous year.
The CER recently named Indiana’s Choice Scholarships program the top state voucher program in the country for its flexible requirements and capacity.
CER Communications Director Michelle Tigani said she believes voucher programs allow parents to make the best decision about their children’s ?education.
“It means that private schools are no longer off-limits or out of reach for families who feel a private school would be best for their child,” Tigani said. “It provides access and opportunity for families.”
She said she believes the best voucher program would be available to all students in the state and would not have a cap own the number of vouchers that could be issued.
Vic Smith of the Indiana Coalition for Public Education, a nonprofit group against privatizing schools, disagrees.
“It takes away money from the public school,” Smith said.
An expansion of the program in 2013 meant students did not have to attend public school before applying for a voucher for private school tuition.
Smith said this meant 7,000 students who received vouchers last year were not transferring away from a public school but already attending private school.
“The savings to the state comes when students are at a public school and they transfer to a lower-cost private school,” Smith said.
In addition to this, the voucher program has received criticism because it indirectly provides some public funds to private schools that were founded on religious principles, according to an article published in the IDS in February 2014. Smith said that, in addition to the economic issues, this is why ICPE doesn’t support the voucher program.
“It’s not a choice that taxpayers should make, to provide a religious education,” Smith said. “We believe public schools are available for everybody and should be supported strongly so everybody can go.”
The Department of Education will release full numbers on the number of vouchers granted for the 2014-2015 school year in mid-October, Altman said.