Recently there have been a lot of stories and opinion pieces written about the Indiana voucher program and school funding. There appears to be a misconception about how the voucher program works as well as its impact on public schools.
Here is how a voucher works. A family wanting to attend a private school that accepts vouchers files their state taxes like every other family. Like all taxpayers, a little over 44 percent of their income tax goes to support the education of all of Indiana's students through a fund called Tuition Support. The family that qualifies and wants to send its student to a voucher school then fills out a form (the voucher) directing the state to send money from the Tuition Support budget to their private school. This year Indiana will send more than $150 million to private schools. The amount of each voucher varies per student, but the average is $4,258.
It is conventional wisdom that the voucher program only affects big cities. While voucher usage is higher in big cities, the financial effect is felt in every school district because the voucher dollars come out of Tuition Support, in effect reducing the dollars supporting students in all public schools.
State legislators are quick to point out that Indiana is now spending more on education than it ever has. That is true, and it was true in the 2015 budget and the 2013 budget before that. But our spending is not keeping up with inflation and it is affected by the increasing number of vouchers being used.
Let's take a look at Indiana's educational spending through the lens of a fictitious student named Fiona Hoosier. In January 2010, Fiona was in kindergarten and now is in the eighth grade. She has attended Logansport schools her whole life and loves being one of just over 4,200 Berries.
From January of her kindergarten year (2010) to January of her eighth-grade year (2018), the Consumer Price Index increased by 14.39 percent. This means if Fiona's parents had purchased something when she was in kindergarten for $100, it would cost them $114.39 today. If Hoosier paychecks are not 14.39 percent higher in 2018 than they were in 2010, they are falling behind inflation, even though their paychecks might be higher.
Indiana's Tuition Support budget has increased over that same period by 10.2 percent. This is well short of inflation. When you look at a per-student expense and factor in the dollars that have been sent to private schools as vouchers, Indiana's Tuition Support has only increased by 7.18 percent per student. That is half the inflation rate! This is at a time when the state's entire budget has gone up 16.82 percent. Public education has lagged in Indiana's budget over Fiona's time in school.
When Fiona was in second grade, the state began giving vouchers to private-school students. Since then, the voucher program has grown to about 35,500 students. The voucher program has essentially created Indiana's second-largest school district without the oversight found in public school districts. Most of these students have never attended a public school before using a voucher, and this year only 274 vouchers were used to leave an F-rated public school.
If the $150 million from Tuition Support used for vouchers this school year were redistributed to the public schools as part of each district's basic tuition grant, Fiona's Logansport School district would have received an additional $619,000 this year.
The impact of the voucher program is not based on how many vouchers are used in your district. It is based on each year's voucher program cost to the Tuition Support budget across the state, regardless of the number of vouchers used within the district. For example, Lebanon Schools lost more than $530,000, Plainfield Schools lost more than $770,000, and Carmel Schools lost more than $2,365,000 this year. Currently, there are 23 school districts where no vouchers are used. They are small districts and the voucher program costs them more than $4 million this year combined. Peru Schools is the largest of these districts and it lost more than $321,000.
Here are this year's losses in Allen County: East Allen County Schools, $1.38 million; Fort Wayne Community Schools, $4.47 million; Northwest Allen County Schools, $1.13 million; and Southwest Allen County Schools, $1.08 million.
To make this complicated issue much simpler, and in honor of Fiona and Pi Day (March 14), think of a loganberry pie. Indiana has baked a smaller pie and expects it to feed a larger number of people. More kids, fewer dollars.
Phil Downs is superintendent of Southwest Allen County Schools.
The cost of vouchers
Because schools are funded by taxpayers statewide, the money following students to private and parochial schools comes from the source of tuition support shared by all public schools in Indiana, not just those in communities with voucher schools. The loss to each traditional public school district in northeast Indiana is based on its percentage of the state's total enrollment. The figures below represent the loss of state funding to each district for the 2017-18 school year.
Adams Central: $158,392
North Adams Community: $280,999
South Adams: $177,458
East Allen County: $1,380,211
Fort Wayne Community: $4,469,590
Northwest Allen: $1,133,383
Southwest Allen: $1,084,253
DeKalb Central: $535,600
DeKalb Eastern: $197,990
Hamilton Community: $60,570
Tippecanoe Valley: $280,853
Wa-Nee Community: $430,445
Wawasee Community: $453,324
Warsaw Community: $1,018,402
Prairie Heights Community: $195,937
Central Noble: $178,338
East Noble: $537,506
West Noble: $354,182
Fremont Community: $150,619
MSD Steuben County: $386,594
Manchester Community: $221,309
Wabash City: $221,749
Wabash County: $285,252
MSD Bluffton-Harrison: $215,296
Northern Wells: $348,903
Southern Wells: $96,062
Whitko Community: $223,069
Whitley County Consolidated: $519,467
Push and pull
Two factors have exacerbated the funding squeeze on traditional public schools since 2010: The number of students has increased as the amount of money spent by the state decreased.
Enrollment grew from 1,037,008 in the 2009-10 school year to 1,066,181 this year. Public school enrollment overall has decreased by less than 1 percent, but total enrollment has increased 2.81 percent with the addition of voucher students supported by the state, according to figures from the Indiana Department of Education.
On the funding side of the equation, support for education has lagged the Consumer Price Index, which increased by 14.39 percent from January 2010 to this past January.
Figures from the State Budget Agency show spending increases in terms of the as-passed biennial budget since 2009-10:
Rate of inflation: +14.39 percent
Education overall: +11.4 percent
Tuition support: +10.2 percent
Health and human services: +31.6 percent
Economic development: +116.08 percent
Conservation/environment: +31.6 percent
Public safety: +34 percent
General government: +56.6 percent
Construction: +44.9 percent