New voucher program expands school options

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There are now more opportunities than ever to send your child to a private school. A law passed last week widens Indiana's voucher program. It breaks down the financial barrier for some families, but at what cost?

This expansion of the state's voucher program will give many more families the ability to opt out of public schools. Governor Mike Pence says this is about giving families more options. But critics feel this is yet another blow to public school districts like IPS because it takes away funding.

The new law lifts a regulation that was in place that required students to first attend a year of public school before being eligible for vouchers. Now they won't have to go to public school at all. It also opens the program to families with higher incomes than before. And now, if you live in a district with failing public schools, you are eligible for state money to attend a private school.

At IPS the focus is on making schools better and attracting more students. "What we have to concentrate on is what we can control," said IPS spokesman John Althardt. "And so we have to make sure that the performance of our schools, the relationships that we have with our parents, with out students, not only attracts them to our district, but gives them good reason to stay with our district."

Which has been a challenge. IPS has gone from the largest school district in the state to number two in enrollment - behind Ft. Wayne Schools.

"We have to work to make sure we're competitive, that people understand the variety, the diversity of the programs that IPS offers and that we have excellent programs," said Althhardt. "That's our goal. And if we continue to do that and we continue to increase the performance of our schools, people will want to come to IPS and people will want to stay with IPS."

But IPS is increasing emphasis on schools like the Center For Inquiry and other specialized magnet schools. The idea is to give students more options and compete directly with private and charter schools.

At least over the past year, Althardt said IPS has been able to maintain enrollment at right around 30,000 as opposed to losing students, which has been a major problem.