Indiana Choice in a Nutshell

Hoosiers are not known for boasting.

We tend to be fairly laid back, humble, generally moderate to conservative in general. Indiana is a decent place to raise a child on the whole; as the hokey expression goes there’s more than corn in Indiana.

The home of the soon-to-be Vice President is presently basking in the overwhelming spotlight that is an administration huge on theater, with substance to-be-determined.

But racing, basketball, and (depending on your political persuasion) politics aside, school choice is where there is much about  which the state can boast proudly.

You’ll allow me to get a little wonky these first few posts.

Let’s get the easy stuff out of the way first. Choice has and will always be available to those with means. And among traditional public schools, some choice (like magnet schools) has been available for some time. Greater inter-district choice has been substantially enhanced this millennium, however, when the state’s choice movement really pushed into gear.

Since the enactment of the state’s charter school legislation in 2001, the state’s charter school community has grown to include  more than 90 schools, serving just over 40,000 students--still, that’s less than 5 percent of the state’s total student population.

These 40,000 students statewide isn’t one the largest totals among states. The strength of the law is what has earned Indiana’s distinction as tops among the 43 states with charters on the books. The law calls for  multiple authorizers, enrollment processes and overall accountability measures.

(By the way, who else  finds the qualification “public charters” cringe worthy? It’s like saying “added bonus.”)

On charters alone, the Indiana model and its prospect for growth is enough to celebrate efforts to reform education. But in terms of private school choice, the state has hit the policy trifecta. And with influencers of that effort leading what is likely to be a robust national choice agenda--think the aforementioned VP elect and prospective incoming Education Secretary Betsy DeVos--the state’s private options may be the model by which others are replicated.

Indiana is the home of the nation’s largest voucher program, with over 34,000 low to moderate income students projected to utilize the Indiana Choice Scholarship Program for tuition to private schools, including sectarian and nonsectarian schools. Those in favor of means testing may take exception to the fact that among voucher recipients, a growing number hail from middle income families. Among other criteria, a family of four earning 200% of the free and reduced lunch threshold--$89,910--can receive a small amount of state assistance through the voucher. The increased accessibility has also resulted in a decrease in proportion of students of color, as African American students now make up less than 15 percent of voucher recipients.

Secondly, the combination of tax credits and deductions have afforded opportunities for greater investment in private options. Indiana is one of only four states that offer a private or home school deduction for partial reimbursement of school expenses. Through the state’s tax credit scholarship program, charitable donors can gain a credit for investing in Scholarship Granting Organizations at a state limit of $9.5 million. Roughly 9,500 scholarships averaging just under $1,700 were awarded last year.

So there it is. Indiana choice in a nutshell. We don’t brag much, but be assured should the national climate take shape as expected, we won’t have to. Whether we like it or not, whether we’re ready or not frankly, here it comes.