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New Budget In Indiana Includes ‘major School-choice Expansion’

When Indiana passed its budget on April 28, one of the things for which the state set funding aside in fiscal years 202
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When Indiana passed its budget as one of the things for which the state set funding aside in fiscal years 2024 and 2025 is what it calls “choice scholarships,” its version of school vouchers. 

The Indiana voucher program started in 2011 where only less than 4,000 students used the Choice Scholarship where it has grown ever since.

Messages are displayed on a door and wall outside a classroom at Horizon Christian Academy in Ft. Wayne, Indiana December 20, 2016. Horizon Christian Academy is one of more than 300 schools that accepts vouchers in Indiana, which has the largest statewide voucher program in the nation. THE WASHINGTON POST/JNS

The Choice Scholarship is a voucher program that offsets the cost of tuition for students and family where it is valid for participating schools.

The current cost of the state voucher programs are at $240 million.

The eligibility provisions of the voucher program are expected to grow from its current 53,000 to a projection of 95,000 by 2025 that would double the state money spent on Choice Scholarships. 

Jason Bedrick, a research fellow at the Heritage Foundation’s Center for Education Policy, told JNS that Indiana’s budget features “a major school-choice expansion.” 

“More than 95% of kids will be eligible for their voucher now,” said Bedrick. 

Previously, scholarships were available to families that earned three times the threshold to qualify for free or reduced-price lunch programs, while the new vouchers expand that to 400%, which is 740% of the federal poverty level. 

The voucher program could come at a cost of $500 million to the state in 2024 and $600 million in 2025.

“We would say it’s universal,” said Betsy Wiley, president and CEO of The Institute of Quality Education. “When this budget passes, I think Indiana will be the most educational choice-friendly state in the nation — across the board — between private school choice options for all Hoosier families, a robust charter environment, and district-to-district transfers. That literally will make any education available to any student in the state.” 

That means that families with joint incomes of about $220,000 or less can qualify for the program, which currently funds students at an average annual rate of $5,500. A family of four would have to qualify for the program.

“Indiana has just taken a major step toward empowering every family to choose the learning environment that aligns with their values and works best for their children,” said Bedrick.

The development in Indiana—the fifth state to debut school choice this year—has “cemented 2023’s status as the biggest year ever for school choice,” he said, with Nebraska, New Hampshire, North Carolina and Oklahoma “poised to make significant progress” in the same regard.

Indiana state legislators set aside funding for mental health, public health, and K-12 schools.

Mental health is the biggest priority where a proposal for a two-year budget allocates $100 million in state funds for enhanced community mental health services.

“We wanted to make sure that 988 was fully funded and provide additional resources for programs and support,” said House Speaker Todd Huston (R-Fishers).

Produced in association with Jewish News Syndicate

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