Choice expansion language in a number of state bills, most notably HB 1005, has been widely talked about in the media lately. These bills seek to expand educational options for all Hoosiers, and they further empower parents to find the best educational opportunity that fits the needs of their student through the Choice scholarship program (voucher). Teachers unions and public school proponents have been vocal about their opposition to the bill.
The opportunity to raise the voucher income limit to 300% of free and reduced lunch will not be helping the rich. Wealthy families don’t need the voucher, and low-income families already have access. What about the middle class?
Some have been painting a picture that this voucher expansion would help only the rich, and that’s simply not true. It’s going to help the families that have multiple children and work several jobs just so their children can attend a school that teaches their faith, offers smaller class sizes and where their child is known and loved. It will help the families that make just barely too much money now to qualify for a voucher, but don’t make enough to afford tuition at the school they want to send their child to. For example, in one of the hard-working middle class families at Bishop Luers High School in Fort Wayne, the mom is a nurse and dad is a firefighter. They have six children to support and truly struggle to afford tuition at the private school, a school that is able to provide the type of discipline and educational opportunities they were unable to receive in a public school.
It is known that traditional public school students make up about 90% of school-age students in the state. However, students who receive a voucher make up 3% of the entire K-12 student population, but they receive only 2% of the funding. At most, voucher students receive 90% of the amount they would have received if they attended their local public school. They can take that amount and choose the Choice school that best fits their needs. The rest stays with the public school system, on top of any local or federal funding, without the responsibility of educating that child. The money should follow the student, at the school of his/her choice.
In 2019-20, the state awarded $172,776,489.99 in school vouchers to families to choose the best school for their child. If each of those 36,707 voucher students would have attended their district public school instead of a private school, the state would have spent $239,239,229.73 in tuition support for those students. That’s a savings of $66,462,739.74.
Currently, 350 students who attend Bishop Luers High School receive a Choice Scholarship; that is 74% of the student body. Bishop Luers is a diverse student body from all backgrounds and proud to have diversity in faith, race, economics and culture. All are students who have parents looking for a different and better educational environment for their children. Why should the cost of private school education prohibit low and middle income families from enrolling their kids in the school of their choice?
Indiana residents need to shift their focus from what Choice is taking away from corporations and instead focus on how it might positively impact Hoosier families and students. The Choice students from Bishop Luers are graduating successfully, and many have enrolled in universities to pursue their goals because their parents could afford the choice of sending them to a private school — a private school that provides each student with the individual tools needed for success. We support all efforts to expand a program that continues to give parents choice, the opportunity to choose the best school for their children, without the economic barrier of cost.
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