A New Look at Data from the Nation’s Largest School Choice Program

Indiana’s statewide school choice program is either incredibly controversial or wildly popular, depending on with whom one speaks. To the former, vouchers only help the rich. And sometimes with the latter, it is suggested only families in “poor-performing” public schools use the freedom to choose in education.

Thankfully, facts exist to respond to such opinions. This week, the Indiana Department of Education released the 2014-15 edition of its Choice Scholarship Program Annual Report with a plethora of data on Indiana’s statewide voucher program. The report, although valuable, might be a bit overwhelming for someone who doesn’t pore over tables and statistics on at least a weekly basis like I do—aren’t you jealous?

Kidding aside, I extracted the report’s major findings to help answer many of the questions Hoosiers and non-Hoosiers have about Indiana’s school choice vouchers:

After doubling in size each year since its creation, the Choice Scholarship Program increased enrollment by 47 percent.

  • 29,148 students are participating in 2014–15 compared with 19,809 students participating in 2013-14.
  • Fewer than three out of every 100 students in Indiana (2.6 percent) are using a voucher to attend a school of their parents’ choosing.
More than seven of 10 students receiving a voucher this school year (70.3 percent) qualify for the federal free and reduced-price lunch (FRL) program. 
  • A family of three, which is Indiana’s average family size, can have an income up to $36,612 to qualify for FRL this school year.
  • The proportion of students from families in this income bracket is slightly decreased from the more than three of four students who received a voucher last year (75.5 percent) and qualified for FRL.

More than one of 10 students receiving a voucher this school year (11.5 percent) are from a family that earns more than 100 percent and up to 150 percent of FRL.

  • That is the same as a family of three that earns $36,613 to $54,918 annually.
  • Last school year, fewer than 8 percent of voucher students (7.9 percent) fell into a similar income bracket ($36,132 to $54,196 for a family of three in 2013–14).

Students from the “wealthiest” families receiving vouchers this school year make up less than one of 25 students (3.9 percent). 

  • “Wealthy” is subjective, as these students are from families making (for a family of three) $54,919 to $73,223 annually.
  • This proportion of students is up from fewer than three of 100 students last school year (2.5 percent) being from families in a similar income bracket ($54,197 to $72,262 for a family of three in 2013–14).

Indiana’s “best” traditional districts gained nearly 2,000 students and the “worst” districts lost nearly 2,000 students. 

The “best” traditional districts, in this case being the 30 districts that received an A grade from 2010 to 2014, had an increase of 1,758 students while 1,113 more students than last year left those high-performing schools with a voucher.1

Had those students stayed, those districts would have had to have found room for 2,871 more students this school year alone. As those districts are coming up with ways to handle explosive growth, imagine if all of the voucher students flooded back into the districts.

Meanwhile, the “worst” districts, in this case being the six traditional districts that received a grade of D or F in 2013 and 2014, lost 1,922 students total.2 Interestingly, less than one-third of them (622 students) were an increase in voucher students this school year. That means even if all of those students had stayed, the districts still would have lost 1,300 students (likely from parents moving to other traditional schools or choosing charter schools).

Slightly more than one-third of voucher students this year (34.4 percent) are enrolled in a school that is located outside of the public school district in which they live. 

That is an increase from the slightly less than one-third of voucher students in 2013–14 (32.0 percent) that attended a school located outside of the public school district in which they live. This means students aren’t necessarily just picking a school that is closer to their home.

Keep in mind these data represent only half of the school choice program equation; i.e., the demand side. There’s also the supply side of education to consider, as families actually need something to choose. For a glimpse into what Indiana voucher schools look like—including tuition levels, open seats, and financial assistance offerings—check out Exploring Indiana’s Private Education Sector.

Until then, the healthy debate on Indiana (and national) school choice and the future of American education will continue. And we’ll be here to provide some answers.

>1. Author’s calculations; “DOE Compass,” Ind. Dept. of Education, accessed Feb. 24, 2015, ; “Final_Corp_School_Grades_2014-v2,” Ind. Dept. of Education, accessed Feb. 10, 2015, ; (in alphabetical order) Avon Community School Corporation, Brownsburg Community School Corporation, Carmel Clay Schools, Center Grove Community School Corporation, Clark-Pleasant Community School Corporation, Crawford County Community School Corporation, Crown Point Community School Corporation, Fairfield Community Schools, Franklin Township Community School Corporation, Fremont Community Schools, Greenwood Community School Corporation, Hamilton Southeastern Schools, Lake Central School Corporation, MSD North Posey County Schools, MSD Southwest Allen County Schools, Mill Creek Community School Corporation, Noblesville Schools, Northern Wells Community Schools, Northwest Allen County Schools, Penn-Harris-Madison School Corporation, School Town of Munster, School Town of Speedway, South Gibson School Corporation, Southeast Dubois County School Corporation, Southern Hancock County Community School Corporation, Southwest Dubois County School Corporation, West Lafayette Community School Corporation, Western Boone County Community School Corporation, Westfield-Washington Schools, and Zionsville Community Schools.

2. Ibid.; (in alphabetical order) Community Schools of Frankfort, Gary Community School Corporation, Kokomo School Corporation, Medora Community School Corporation, Indianapolis Public Schools, and School City of East Chicago.