In Praise Of Vouchers

Wednesday, September 14, 2011 - 1:09pm

Indiana state superintendent says controversial school voucher program has proven successful.

Indiana's controversial and hotly debated school voucher program is exceeding expectations.

The State Superintendent of Public Instruction Dr. Tony Bennett claims enrollment has taken off like no other similar program in the country.

At Holy Spirit Elementary, nearly one-fourth of the students now receive state-funded vouchers to offset the cost of their private school education.

About half were already enrolled, the rest transferred from public schools.

"We started communicating through the mail, through phone calls. We did have walk-ins, as well," said Holy Spirit Principal Rita Parsons.

The Department of Education says 3,800 students are receiving vouchers, a program created and implemented in less than three months.

"It is the largest uptake of a state-funded voucher program in the history of the United States," Bennett said.

Most students are from low or moderate income families.

Eighty-five percent receive free or reduced-cost lunches, 33 percent come from Marion County schools and 15 percent come from rural areas and small towns.

The size of the vouchers vary according to the family's income and which school district they attend.

Some come very close to the cost of private school tuition, but in many cases, there is a gap of thousands of dollars to fill.

At Holy Spirit, parents pay, at most, $5,700 for each student.

"For most, they have picked up the difference. I would say 90 percent picked up the difference," Parsons said.

KIPP Academy, an inner city charter elementary school, is finding that with vouchers, even higher priced, higher performing private high schools are becoming an option for their students.

"With merit-based scholarship, then also need-based financial aid, then that begins to close very quickly and parents able to plan for that being a possibility," said Lauren McMahon at KIPP Academy.

Money, though, is not the only obstacle.

Before students can even apply for a voucher, they must be admitted to the private school they want to attend.

That means meeting that school's academic standards and other requirements that don't exist in public schools.

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