November 14, 2011; Source: Stateline | A number of nonprofit, religious, and for-profit K–12 schools have been enthusiastic proponents of school voucher programs as avenues for subsidizing the tuition of kids to induce enrollments. In some states, the tuition programs rely on corporate and individual donations that receive a tax credit of sorts if dedicated to school vouchers, but Indiana’s program is straight-out state cash. Unlike other states with voucher programs, Indiana does not require that pupils come from failing or below-average schools in order to qualify for a voucher. Also, it is somewhat less restrictive regarding families’ income eligibility, providing assistance to families of four with incomes as high as $62,021.

Predictably, the law has spurred almost 4,000 kids to decamp from Indiana public schools toward private school alternatives. Surprisingly, according to Stateline, it has led some parents of kids in private schools to put their kids back into public schools so that they can qualify for the vouchers, which require attendance for at least two semesters of public schooling before applying for the state vouchers. So rather than helping kids from public schools find and finance better alternatives in private schools, the program may be subject to being used—or gamed—by parents of kids already attending private schools to secure subsidies to make their tuition payments cheaper. The state acknowledges that this is entirely permissible, though it expects that parents with kids in good schools will keep them there rather than moving their offspring back to public schools for a couple of semesters to earn voucher eligibility.

Obviously, not all private schools are alike. While most Indiana private schools don’t charge the Harvard-like tuitions of private schools in Manhattan or Washington, DC, some charge several thousand dollars for a year’s tuition. The religious or parochial schools may be somewhat less expensive than their tony private counterparts, but they too charge a few thousand for tuition plus other expenses. The state tax credit is valuable to families trying to put their children into private schools, but we wonder whether the education kids will receive in private schools is really worth the expenditure compared to what might be equally decent educational experiences provided by their public school counterparts.—Rick Cohen