School choice voucher usage jumps 32% after massive expansion

Students sit in a classroom. (Photo courtesy Gallup News)

Nov 15, 2023

A record-breaking number of Hoosier students are using state vouchers to attend private school after state lawmakers dramatically expanded eligibility for the program earlier this year, making the program effectively universal.

Almost 70,000 students are participating in Indiana’s school choice program this fall, according to the Indiana Department of Education. 

That’s almost a 32% increase year over year in students participating in the program, the state’s largest increase in the number of students claiming vouchers since the 2014-2015 school year. Last fall 52,614 students were participating in the program, with an additional 648 students joining in the spring. 

“We are super excited about the amazing growth of the Indiana choice scholarship program,” Indianapolis-based EdChoice President and CEO Robert Enlow said in an emailed statement. “Any time more families get more options it is a positive thing. Parents armed with more choices and more power means that children will be better served in the long run.”

In the two-year state budget passed in April, lawmakers expanded the eligibility for the program to allow those making 400% of the income required to qualify for free or reduced-price lunches to participate in the school choice program. 

Likewise, state lawmakers simplified eligibility by removing other requirements. 

That means a family of four earning up to $220,000 per year qualifies to use state money for private schools. Last school year, a family of four had to earn around $154,000 per year or less for a student to qualify.

EdChoice estimates 97% of all Hoosier students now qualify for the scholarships. 

School choice voucher usage has grown as state lawmakers have expanded the program. (Design: Brittney Phan)

Proponents, including powerful Republicans in the General Assembly, have argued the state should fund students, not schools, leaving the choice up to parents. Democrats and some traditional public school supporters, though, criticized lawmakers for devoting more state dollars to private schools that aren’t held to the same standards that traditional public schools are.  For example, private schools do not have to accept every student who wants to attend the school. 

“Man, kids whose families make $220,000 a year, do you think they really need us to help them go to private school?” Senate Minority Leader Greg Taylor asked on the last day of the legislative session. “I’m just flabbergasted at how we continue to go down this path.”

So far this year, the school choice scholarship program is attracting fewer students than the General Assembly predicted. The Legislative Services Agency estimated that 85,000 students would use the program in the first school year. Of course, some additional students may still apply in the second half of the school year. 

Students can apply to use a voucher in the second half of the school year by contacting their participating school of choice. A full list of schools that accept vouchers can be found on the Indiana Department of Education’s website

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