2012-04-26 / Local & State

Voucher Program Spurs Payments To Public Schools

MERRILLVILLE, Ind. (AP) – Public school districts and charter schools across Indiana will receive nearly $4.2 million next month to replace some of the state money many lost when students opted to attend private schools under a new voucher program.

A law passed in 2011 gave Indiana the nation’s broadest voucher program, allowing even middle-income students to use state money to attend private schools.

The law capped the voucher amounts at $4,500 per student. But some districts' costs were higher, and the state Budget Committee this month to return some of that money to the public districts, Stephanie Sample, a spokeswoman for the Indiana Department of Education, told the Post- Tribune.

About 4,000 students used the vouchers this school year, but the program can be expanded to up to 15,000 students for the 2012-2013 school year. There are no limits the following year.

The vouchers caused a spike in enrollment at some Catholic schools that had been on the brink of closing because of a dwindling numbers. The program also upset public schools because of the drop in state funding. Officials from public and private schools say the uncertainty makes it difficult to plan.

The amounts being returned to public districts on May 18 reflect a five-step formula that considers the amount of the voucher and the state tuition support to the district.

Sample said even schools that didn’t lose students to the voucher program will receive part of the distribution.

“It takes money left over and puts it in a fund and distributes money back to all,” she said.

The voucher law has been challenged in court by opponents who say it violates the state constitution by funneling tax dollars to religious institutions.

A Marion County judge in January upheld the law, saying the state isn't directly funding parochial schools. Instead, it gives scholarship vouchers to parents, who can choose where to use them.

The state Supreme Court has agreed to hear an appeal.

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