In 2011, Indiana enacted the broadest school voucher program in the country.
In the program’s first year, almost 4,000 families used vouchers to attend participating private schools, with the number of students applying for vouchers more than doubling in each of the following two years, to 9,324 students in 2012–13, and 19,809 in 2013–14. The state’s other private school choice program, the School Scholarship Tax Credit, also has grown over time, from 978 students in 2011, to 2,890 in 2013.
Who is using vouchers and tax-credit scholarships? The latest data from the program’s second year are clear. Eighty-one percent of students using vouchers qualified for free and reduced-price lunch. Sixty-six percent came from metropolitan areas, almost half (48 percent) were minority, and 11 percent have special needs. Enrollees chose from among 313 participating private schools, up from 242 in 2011.
But why are those parents leaving one school and choosing another school? How important is academic quality, safety, or transportation to their decisions? And how easy is it for parents to find the right private school for their child?
To better understand those questions, Indiana’s legislature established a legislative study commission on private school choice in 2013 via HEA 1003. Policymakers wanted to know “Why parents choose to enroll a child in a choice scholarship school.”