Analysis of Indiana school voucher program finds participation growing exponentially

Thursday, February 19, 2015

A closer look at the Indiana Choice Scholarship, the state’s school voucher program, finds participation in Indiana is five times higher than in 2011 and Indiana’s eligibility is among the least restrictive in the country.

The Center for Evaluation and Education Policy brief, “The Indiana Choice Scholarship Program: Legal Challenges, Program Expansion, and Participation,” provides a current overview, describes recent legal challenges and shares data regarding the first three years of the program’s implementation. The brief is written by Katherine Cierniak, CEEP graduate research assistant; Rebecca Billick, family advocacy attorney and owner of Billick Mediation & Family Law in Valparaiso and Chicago; and Anne-Maree Ruddy, CEEP’s director of education policy and senior research associate.

Indiana awarded 3,911 Indiana Choice Scholarships in 2011-12; by the 2013-14 school year, that increased to 19,809. Of the 13 states with voucher programs, Indiana is one of just five offering vouchers statewide. Since it was signed in 2011, significant changes have been made to Indiana’s voucher law, and the constitutionality of the program has been upheld through the 2013 Meredith v. Pence court decision.

The Indiana Choice Scholarship provides funding for students to attend an approved “Choice School.” Awards are provided in amounts of either 90 percent or 50 percent of tuition and fees at private schools. Legislation in 2013 opened further eligibility pathways and eliminated the cap on the number of students participating.

The authors found that with the latest changes in voucher regulations, Indiana’s eligibility requirements are among the least restrictive in the country. Indiana students from families whose annual income is equal to or below 370 percent of the federal poverty level are now eligible. Additionally, legislation approved four new pathways to eligibility with the 2013-14 school year: the Continuing Choice Scholarship, the Special Education pathway, the “F” Public School Pathway and the Sibling Pathway.

“Indiana’s program is unique among statewide voucher programs in terms of household income criteria and the pathways through which students are eligible,” Ruddy said. “Though the ICS program shares similarities with other statewide programs, it continues to be one of the most expansive in the nation due to these two factors.”

With the changing eligibility standards, more than 75 percent of participating students qualified for the highest award level. From the 2012-13 to 2013-14 school years, the number of students receiving 90 percent scholarships doubled from 7,420 to 14,960.

“While the number of students receiving the 90 percent scholarship has doubled nearly each year since the program’s implementation, the number of students receiving 50 percent scholarships nearly tripled from 2012-13 to 2013-14,” Cierniak said. "The percentage and number of students receiving the 50 percent scholarship has increased each year, and we anticipate seeing continued increases given the changes in income eligibility criteria.”

The next CEEP brief will take a further look at how the state’s voucher program compares to other general education voucher programs with income eligibility requirements in other states. Implications of the establishment of new statewide voucher programs and the expansion of existing programs are explored.

CEEP, one of the country's leading nonpartisan program evaluation and education policy research centers, promotes and supports rigorous evaluation and research primarily, but not exclusively, for educational, human services and nonprofit organizations and agencies. CEEP’s experience includes numerous external evaluations of programs funded by National Science Foundation, U.S. Department of Education and Institute of Education Sciences, as well as numerous contracts with state departments of education, foundations, and school districts. CEEP is housed within the Indiana University School of Education.