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Indiana Voucher Program Sends Money Back to Districts

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Indiana's far-reaching voucher law, approved last year, includes a provision that kicks money back to districts around the state, many of which were losing students to private schools—and losing a slice of their per-pupil funding along with it.

Checks worth a combined $4.2 million in "choice distribution payments" are scheduled to head out the door next month, to traditional public school districts and charter schools, though virtual charter schools are excluded.

The Flat Rock-Hawcreek school corporation will get $3,760. The Kokomo-Center Township consolidated district, $28,256. The Indianapolis schools will receive $169,293.

Indiana's voucher program offers families money for private school costs equal to either 50 percent or 90 percent of public per-pupil funding, depending on income level. Eligibility for the program is not merely limited to disadvantaged students; it also reaches some middle-class families. About 3,900 families are participating this year. The program is capped at 15,000 students next year, and there is no limit after that.

Under the distribution-payment system, the difference between traditional per-pupil amounts and the amount given through vouchers is pooled and redistributed to schools based on a formula. It goes to all eligible public school corporations, regardless of whether they lost students to vouchers.

Some voucher supporters see this money flow as a good thing. The Friedman Foundation for Educational Choice touts the program as "redistributing savings across the state."

But others say the distributions don't make up for the students who've chosen other options. The Bartholomew Consolidated School Corporation is getting $42,000 back—after losing $208,000 dollars because of students taking part in the voucher program, according to a report by Indiana Public Media.

Alex Damron, a spokesman for the state's department of education, countered that it does not make sense to redirect money to districts for students who are no longer there.

"It's clear that Indiana is committed to funding schools for the students they educate," Damron told me in an interview. The idea is that "all schools [would] receive funding for the students who are in their classrooms—and we've held true to that principle."

Frank A. Bush, the executive director of the Indiana School Boards Association, which did not support the voucher law, said in an e-mail that the group was nonetheless grateful for the money—even if the amount was modest.

"Any time the state returns revenue to school corporations, it is a positive," Bush said. While the amount is "not significant," for some districts, he said, "these are dollars that were not available, and now are."

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