Officials call voucher program a success as enrollment deadline looms

The deadline for the school voucher program is Friday, and state education officials have said the interest in the program already proves it has the ability to be a big success.

Indianapolis

The deadline for the school voucher program is Friday, and state education officials have said the interest in the program already proves it has the ability to be a big success.

"Eighty-five percent of the students who have signed up to participate in this program are signing up at the larger scholarship level. That means they receive free or reduced lunch," said Alex Damron, Indiana Department of Education Spokesman.

Plenty of middle school parents, who learned about the program, checked out some of their new options at the Kipp Indianapolis High School Fair Thursday night. Several charter schools and private schools had booths and representatives.

One parent, Fakeima Harris, said she would not be able to pay private school tuition without the voucher program next year.

"Not without working two or three jobs you wouldn't be able to," she said.

She is a mother two eighth-grade twins.

The school voucher program allows low and middle income families to redirect public money from public school districts to private schools.

The program, that was only created a few months ago, has attracted 3,778 students, according to state education officials.

"I would say that most folks thought that we exceeded expectations," said Damron.

State education officials set a cap for the program at 7,500 vouchers this year, double the amount of current voucher recipients.

Still, Damron said Indiana should be applauded for kicking off the largest first year voucher program in the nation's history.

Next year's voucher recipient cap has been set at 15,000 students, and by 2013, there will be no limit.

While some parents will pay nothing for private school, others will have to chip in. It is based on annual income.

More than 240 private schools are involved in the program, the majority of which have a religious affiliation.

"Every year we lose several children due to financial burden," said Teresa Green, a representative with Heritage Christian.

Green said the voucher program is a blessing. It also kept their enrollment steady.

Another parent at the high school fair, Candace Harris, said she will be weighing the options along with her daughter.

"I just want her to go to a good school, and learn something, and take it, and go further in her life with it," said Harris.

The students participating in the program are from more than 150 school districts, but only 15 percent of the students receiving vouchers are from small towns or rural districts.

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