Exploring school choice in IN as KY could follow suit

Exploring school choice in IN as KY could follow suit
One family told WAVE 3 News that the voucher program allowed them to choose Christian Academy of Indiana, a school that best matches their family values.
Elmy Sayruiz. (Source: WAVE 3 News)
Elmy Sayruiz. (Source: WAVE 3 News)

NEW ALBANY, IN (WAVE 3) - The Sayruiz family owns a small cleaning company in Southern Indiana but are able to send all three of their children to private school in Indiana with the help of Indiana's Choice Scholarships program, also known as the "school voucher" program.

When it came to choosing a school, Elmy Sayruiz said it was important to find a school with high academic standards, shared values and a family atmosphere since most of their family members live so far away. The family landed on Christian Academy of Indiana but said it wouldn't be possible without the help of the voucher program.

"It is really important to us to have a place in school that has same values that we do," Sayruiz said. "The program has made that possible for us to pick and choose this school that otherwise probably otherwise we cannot do it."

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The program launched in 2011 with the intent of giving parents equal access to choose their child's education in private, public or charters schools in Indiana. According to EdChoice, there were 34,299 participating students for the 2016-2017 school year, with 50% of students eligible in the entire state. A student must meet certain economic guidelines to be considered for the program.

"If the family of a certain number is under a certain income limit then they're eligible for scholarship," Liz Geisen, Tuition Assistance Coordinator for Christian Academy, said.

Geisen said families are surprised to learn they're eligible for the program and she's able to walk them through the application process with ease. Ultimately, state funds follow the student to the school of their choice.

"We do the paperwork electronically and send it to the state and they send money to the school," Geisen said.

A similar school choice, or voucher, bill is making a pass for the second time in the Kentucky General Assembly.

"Today in Kentucky, economics restricts people from choice," Moe Lundrigan, Executive Director for Christian Academy, said.

Lundrigran said data he's gathered proves that the system works.

"In the state of Indiana its worked extremely well, it's quite seamless," Lundrigan said. "The fears about the program really haven't been born out. We have benefited from that because students and parents actually have a choice and that's really what the program is."

Under the current proposals, the money for the vouchers/scholarships would come from private donors who would then get a tax break for contributing.

EDITOR'S NOTE: A previous version of this story, as well as the video above, referred to the bill before the Kentucky legislator by an incorrect number.

Some stakeholders have been fighting the bill, with concerns that funding will be taken away from the public school system. Jefferson County Public School Board member Chris Kolb said data he's seen hasn't showed academics benefit from school choice.

"You know that raises a lot of red flags for me and makes me very nervous that some folks might be shifting money where it's not going to get the greatest academic return on investment," Kolb said.

More information on the eligibility for the program can be found here.

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