(STATEHOUSE) - Final numbers are not out yet, but the number of Indiana children using vouchers to attend private schools has more than doubled since last year.
Alex Damron with the Department of Education says more than 9,000 students took advantage of the "Choice Scholarships" this school year. Students are eligible for a voucher if they meet certain income requirements, regardless of whether their public school is failing by the department's standards.
The number of vouchers given out did not approach the cap of 15,000 that was set by state law, but it is vastly more than the 3,919 awarded in 2011, the first year of the program. Damron says that number set a record for a first-year voucher program. He did not know when a final number for voucher participants this school year would be released along with a list of schools and school districts the students left for private schools.
The teacher's union has been highly critical of the program, claiming it siphons money away from public schools and, therefore, away from teacher's salaries and benefits. The Indiana State Teachers Association sued to strike down the law since the list of approved voucher schools by the education department includes many religious schools. The Indiana Supreme Court is scheduled to hear arguments in the case November 21st.
Damron points out that private schools approved for the voucher program must meet a host of state requirements; just like public and charter schools, they must to be graded on the A-to-F scale, they have to give statewide assessments to all students and not just voucher students, plus other metrics.
If the law is upheld, there will be no limit on the number of choice scholarships available to parents beginning with the 2013-2014 school year.
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