Over the last decade, Indiana has presided over a robust period of school choice growth and innovation. In 2010, Indiana took a big step forward with the creation of the state’s first choice program, the Tax Credit Scholarship.
This program was designed to offer low and middle-income families access to quality education and help them escape from underperforming schools. Under the plan, 49 percent of the state’s student are eligible. In 2017, a record 8,501 scholarships were awarded to Indiana families.
In 2011, the state introduced the Indiana Choice Scholarship, which works as a voucher program for low and middle-income families and is by far one of the largest and fastest growing programs in the country. More than half of the state’s students are eligible to participate and some 34,000 students are currently enrolled.
The Indiana Private School/Homeschool Deduction program was also launched in 2011. It allows families to receive partial reimbursement for some of their school expenses.
Each of these programs has greatly expanded the reach of choice in Indiana and parents now have more direct control over their children’s education.
Yet, there are some who are highly critical of these new changes and who see them as a threat to public education. They point to the precipitous decline of enrollment in traditional public schools and an overall decline in school district revenue. However, more often than not, enrollment drops and decreases in revenue have no causal relationship to choice expansion. Rather, the declines almost always predate any substantial action taken by the state. For example, Indianapolis Public Schools (IPS) has declined from a high of 109,000 students in 1967 to just 30,000 today. Enrollment was declining long before the school choice programs were introduced. It would be more accurate to describe the rise of choice programs as a direct response to the demand from parents seeking better and higher quality education options.
While critics may mourn the fact that more and more Indiana children choose to attend schools other than traditional public schools, they should be celebrating that parents have many more choices to serve the educational needs of their children. Public opinion surveys confirm this sediment. In one recent cross-sector survey, 86 percent of parents with kids participating in the Indiana voucher program reported high to moderate levels of satisfaction. And another 83 percent of parents said the same about the tax-credit scholarship program.