School voucher usage on rise

The number of families who chose to move their children from public school to a charter or religious-affiliated school has continued to rise in Johnson County.

In 2011, the Indiana Department of Education created a choice scholarship voucher which would allow residents to move their children from public school to a private institution at a reduced cost to the families. Two years ago, the state changed the income and eligibility requirements for the vouchers, so more families could take advantage of the program in the 2014-15 and 2015-16 school years.

Most local school districts, including Center Grove, Clark-Pleasant, Franklin and Greenwood, saw anywhere from five to 42 more students take advantage of the voucher this year.

Nineveh-Hensley-Jackson and Edinburgh school districts did not see a change in their student enrollment due to the program.

More than 32,000 students statewide used the voucher during this school year, according to the scholarship report from the Indiana Department of Education.

In Johnson County, 546 students are using a voucher to attend a charter or private school. That number is up 25 percent since last school year, and up by 1,200 percent since the first year of the program.

The program works by allowing the tax dollars that the state typically gives to a public school for each child enrolled to instead be paid to the private or charter school of the family’s choosing.

Despite more families moving children to private schools, local administrators are not concerned about students leaving public schools, they said. The majority of Johnson County students using the vouchers are most likely seeking religious-based education, such as at SS. Francis and Clare Catholic School in White River Township, Roncalli High School in Indianapolis or Greenwood Christian Academy, said Center Grove superintendent Richard Arkanoff.

“When we analyze this issue, we really feel like it’s a conscious choice parents are making based on the parochial schools that are around us, and not necessarily the charter environment,” Arkanoff said.

For example, younger siblings are joining their brother or sister at private schools through the program, said Franklin superintendent David Clendening. Students are required to attend one year of public schooling before transferring to a private school with a voucher, but siblings can bypass that requirement, Clendening said.

The students are not leaving due to being displeased with their local public school, Arkanoff said.

Arkanoff said additional publicity about the vouchers and increased accessibility has lead to more families using them.

Franklin, Clark-Pleasant and Center Grove officials said they don’t see students leaving the school district in large numbers, even though more families were recorded as leaving the schools according to the state.

For example, even though 167 students who live within the Clark-Pleasant boundaries attended a private school with a voucher this year, Clark-Pleasant officials did not see a drop in their student body by that same number of children, said Clark-Pleasant assistant superintendent of curriculum and instruction Cameron Rains. Most likely, children who were already enrolled at private schools were starting to use the voucher program, he said.

Since administrators believe the majority of families are looking for religious-based schooling, local school districts are not trying to win students back by promoting programs or extracurricular activities, Arkanoff and Clendening said. Instead, the biggest use of promotional materials such as brochures or the school websites are to attract high-quality teachers, Arkanoff said.

At a glance

Nearly every school district saw a rise in the number of vouchers used during this year compared to the 2014-2015 school year.

School district;2014-2015 number of vouchers;2015-2016 vouchers; percent change

Center Grove;130;172;32 percent increase

Clark-Pleasant;131;167;27.5 percent increase

Edinburgh;less than 10;less than 10;no change

Franklin;87;114;31 percent increase

Greenwood;68;73;7 percent increase

Nineveh-Hensley-Jackson;20;20;no change

Statewide;29,148;32,686;12 percent increase

Source: Indiana Department of Education report