Friday, September 16, 2011

The Battle Over Vouchers in Indiana

(WNS)--More Indiana parents are choosing to send their children to private and parochial schools in the state, which has enacted the nation’s largest school voucher program.

More than 3,200 students received vouchers to attend private schools this year—with nearly 70 percent of them attending Catholic schools.

Catholic schools are in the minority among Indiana private schools but received a majority of vouchers because many are venerable and already have state accreditation. They also have more space: One Catholic school in South Bend had seen enrollment dwindle from 702 students in 1953 to 135 last year. This year, due to the voucher program, enrollment has jumped to 212 students.

Most voucher systems enacted elsewhere in the United States are limited to poor students, those in failing schools, or those with special needs. But in Indiana, any student whose family has a household income less than $60,000 is eligible.

Because of the popularity of the program, public school officials have been contacting parents of voucher students, begging them to keep their children in the public schools. And these administrators have strong incentive. For example, if families in South Bend who signed up for vouchers don’t return, administrators there estimate they will have $1.3 million less to spend.

“They’re making the argument that the money belongs to the system and not to the parents,” said Robert Enlow of the Friedman Foundation for Educational Choice.

The vouchers in Indiana are government-issued certificates that allow parents to pay private school tuition with tax money they would have normally paid to public schools.

Nate Schnellenberger, president of the Indiana State Teachers Association, complained that “public money is going to be taken from public schools, and they’re going to end up in private, mostly religious schools.”

The teachers’ union, which is suing, claims the voucher program is in violation of “the separation of church and state” since only six of 240 participating private schools in the state are secular.

But Enlow called the lawsuit a “misdirection,” adding that parents are simply choosing available schools: “We’re giving aid to students, not aid to religion.”

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