The Bluegrass Institute for Public Policy Solutions, Kentucky’s first and only free-market think tank, joins with hundreds of groups nationwide to celebrate the fifth annual National School Choice Week (Jan. 25-31). Since its beginning more than 11 years ago, the Bluegrass Institute has been the leading voice to give Kentucky parents effective alternatives to ensure that each child receives a quality education. As part of National School Choice Week, the Bluegrass Institute will publish a series of blogs offering information on different types of school choice. This series will be one of 6,000 events nationwide taking place as part of this year’s National School Choice Week.
Today, we offer this Q&A about vouchers:
Q: What is a voucher?
A: A program that allows parents to use state funding set aside for their children’s education to send their child to a private school of their choice.
Q: Who’s eligible to receive a voucher?
- be resident of the state; meet specific income requirements
- have a child who currently: (a) attends a failing – or at least a public – school
- have a learning-disabled student that has received an Individualized Education Program (IEP)
- be previous voucher recipients
- have siblings who already attend a private school of choice using a scholarship
Q: Are private schools participating in voucher programs required to accept all students who apply?
A: No. This is where there is a marked difference between voucher schools and their public counterparts. While public schools – including charter schools – cannot refuse to accept any child who applies, private voucher schools may, for example, limit enrollment to students who meet certain academic qualifications. However, this can vary by state. Schools participating in the Indiana Choice Scholarship Program, for example, may not set special requirements for students who receive financial assistance via vouchers.
Q: Are vouchers available only to poor people?
A: While several voucher programs do limit participation based on income, the Indiana Choice Scholarship Program is making it possible for even some middle-class families to have access to at least small vouchers to help provide quality educational choices for their children:
- Families of four making less than $43,500 can receive a voucher in the amount of up to 90 percent of per-pupil state funding in the district in which they reside.
- Families of four making more than $43,500 but less than $65,250 can receive 50 percent of per-pupil state funding in the district in which they reside.
- Families of five making more than $51,634 but less than $77,451 can receive a small voucher.
- While per-pupil state funding amounts vary by district, it is $8,000 in the Indianapolis Public Schools district, of which a maximum of $4,700 can be spent on private-school tuition for elementary schools; no such cap exists for high school students.
Q: Are school-voucher programs a novel or radical idea?
A: No. Consider:
- More than 115,000 students are currently enrolled in the 21 voucher programs nationwide.
- More than 19,000 scholarships were awarded to students through the Indiana Choice Scholarship Program during the 2013-14 school year.
“Our goal is to have a system in which every family in the U.S. will be able to choose for itself the school to which its children go. We are far from that ultimate result. If we had that – a system of free choice – we would also have a system of competition, innovation, which would change the character of education.” —Nobel laureate Milton Friedman