Chesterton Tribune                                                                                   Adv.

Indiana voucher program lags weeks before debut

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INDIANAPOLIS (AP) — Weeks before its scheduled launch, Indiana education officials still haven’t released even the most basic information on the state’s new school voucher program — the nation’s most sweeping to date that will pay for public school students to attend private schools.

State Superintendent of Public Instruction Tony Bennett told The Indianapolis Star that the delay in getting the program started resulted from the frequent changes lawmakers made to the voucher bill as it moved through the Legislature.

The law, passed in April, uses taxpayer money to help parents send their children to private and religious schools. The plan is based on a sliding income scale, with families of four making more than $60,000 qualifying for some level of scholarship if they switch from public to private schools.

Advocates say the vouchers will be in place by fall and they are ready to help low- and middle-income families take advantage of them.

“It’s a pretty serious program to get off the ground. The state is doing a good job. They are getting it done as fast as they can,” said Robert Enlow, executive director of the Foundation for Educational Choice, which advocated for the voucher law.

But with such a short time before the new school year starts — and with not even the application form online yet — the lack of information makes it unclear how comprehensive the program will be in its first year. Also uncertain is how much interest it might generate among parents and private schools and what impact it could have on public schools.

The Star reported other states with voucher programs similar to Indiana’s started slowly but picked up momentum.

In Ohio, for example, 3,667 applied for vouchers in the first year. But in five years, the program has grown to the state cap of 14,000.

Indiana’s program — which allows 7,500 voucher students in 2011-12 — has fewer limits than Ohio’s, which launched its program in 2007 after months of information sessions for schools and parents across Ohio.

Such information exchanges haven’t happened in Indiana. Instead, the law’s supporters, such as School Choice Indiana and the Indiana Non-Public School Association, have had webinars to teach private schools about the program.

And so far there has not been much direct outreach to parents. Although school choice groups are planning an advertising campaign next month, it still remains to be seen whether parents will know enough about the program to sign up in significant numbers.

“The timing was such that our ability to get a full-year implementation in the first year is limited,” Bennett said. “But I am encouraged by the amount of outreach the individual schools have done.”

The Archdiocese of Indianapolis, which covers most of central and southern Indiana, reports that about half of its 65 Catholic schools have committed to accepting vouchers. Most of the rest are undecided.

“I know that there is great interest, and we are encouraging the schools to participate,” said Glen Tebbe, executive director of the Indiana Catholic Conference.

The Star contacted a dozen Indianapolis private schools — including Catholic, Christian and nonreligious schools — and three-quarters told the newspaper they plan to accept vouchers. The rest are waiting to decide.

For some private schools, the late rollout has made participation tough.

“There are a lot of unknowns when it comes to the voucher program,” said Michael Brandt, the interim head of school at Lutheran High School of Indianapolis, which plans to participate in the voucher program.

Lutheran already has filled most of its seats for the upcoming school year, but it could match some eligible families already intending to attend the school with vouchers to help them pay tuition once the state’s process is explained.

Indiana’s law requires participating schools to administer state tests to all of their students. It also requires the state to give each school an A to F letter grade at the end of each school year, as is required for public schools.

Private schools accepting vouchers also must follow state curriculum requirements for core subjects and agree to state inspections.

Many Indiana private schools already meet most of those requirements in order to be state-accredited.



Posted 6/27/2011




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