More than half the local nonpublic schools doubled the number of students enrolled this academic year with vouchers, filling up private and charter school classrooms and pulling revenue from the public districts.
In 2011-12, the first year of the Choice Scholarship Program – more commonly called vouchers – 3,911 students and 241 schools participated, according to Indiana Department of Education data.
The numbers increased to 9,139 students and 289 schools for the 2012-13 school year, and 19,809 students and 313 schools for the 2013-14 school year.
Public school leaders remain concerned about what the increased number of students selecting a private school means for their classrooms.
This year, Fort Wayne Community Schools saw a 142 percent jump in the number of students from within the district's boundaries who opted to attend a nonpublic school on a voucher.
Bishop Luers High School is benefiting.
"I think that our record stands for itself," Bishop Luers Principal Mary Keefer said. "At Bishop Luers, it's about educating the spiritual, academic and social aspects, and we are successful in all of those areas."
Keefer said the growing number of students are welcomed but could lead to cramped classrooms – and eventually, a cap on the number of students enrolled – if the trend continues.
"I don't think we can physically house more than 700 students, and we're at about 600 right now," Keefer said. " … We love our numbers and our diversity, and as long as we stay about where we are, it's all good."
Leaders of at least one private school have said the growing enrollment, including voucher students, has caused them to get creative.
St. Joseph-St. Elizabeth School will split to form two separate schools beginning in the fall of 2014 because of enrollment growth.
For the past 15 years, the Catholic school has operated as a joint school on two different campuses. The St. Joseph campus on Brooklyn Avenue serves students in fifth through eighth grade; St. Elizabeth on Aboite Center Road serves students in preschool through fourth grade.
In August, the schools will separate, forming St. Joseph Catholic School, which will serve students in kindergarten through fifth grade, and St. Elizabeth Seton Catholic School, which will serve students in preschool through eighth grade. St. Joseph school will begin adding middle school grades in 2015 until it serves students through eighth grade as well.
Only one local private school saw a decline in the number of students with vouchers who signed up to attend classes.
Cornerstone College Preparatory School had 114 students with vouchers in 2012-13. During the 2013-14 school year, 88 voucher students enrolled.
Calls to the school, which received an F rating from the state's accountability program, were not returned Monday.
The voucher program will cost the state up to $81 million this year as 5,000 students were newly eligible because of a sibling, special education or F-rated public school exemption.
Legislation approved last year by Indiana Gov. Mike Pence created additional pathways for students interested in attending nonpublic schools with a voucher.
In addition to qualifying if they have attended a public school for two or more semesters, meet income eligibility guidelines or have received a voucher in the past, students can now qualify if a sibling received a voucher, if they are coming from an F-rated school or if the student has a disability that requires special education, according to state law.
For public schools, the increasing number of students opting out their school districts' boundaries continues to be a concern.
"Ultimately, that's $16 million taken out of our schools here," FWCS spokeswoman Krista Stockman said.
Like in other local public school districts, a growing number of students living within FWCS boundaries opted to participate in the voucher program.
This year, 2,786 students who live within the district's boundaries received a voucher, up from 1,149 during the 2012-13 school year.
That is the highest raw number in the state, according to state data.
Stockman said the amount of money those students could have brought into the district would have covered the cost of 225 teachers.
"If we were receiving that amount, maybe we could provide pre-K classes. There's so much we could do to help students, and we know that when we get kids and we have them in our schools, we do well," she said.
East Allen County Schools had 424 students choose to attend other schools this year, up from 160 the year before.
Two other local districts – Southwest and Northwest Allen – also saw an increase in students within the districts' boundaries selecting other schools.
Southwest had 107 students opt out of attending schools during 2013-14 school year, up from 43 students the year prior.
Likewise, Northwest had 132 students attend other schools with a voucher this school year, up from 46 in 2012-13.
Voucher student county by school
Below is the number of students who receive a voucher at local non-public schools and the amount awarded for vouchers in 2013-14.
|Saint Joseph-Saint Elizabeth Campus 2||$284,775.45||88||31||N/A|
|Bishop Dwenger High School||$687,095.69||145||43||22|
|Bishop Luers High School||$1,072,965.37||200||109||58|
|Most Precious Blood School||$382,702.15||113||40||17|
|Queen of Angels School||$392,750.91||110||67||19|
|Saint Charles Borromeo School||$974,015.02||233||91||24|
|Saint John the Baptist School||$499,540.79||144||50||20|
|Saint Joseph-Saint Elizabeth Campus 1||$142,002.51||54||20||N/A|
|Saint Jude Elementary School||$659,749.20||207||86||28|
|Blackhawk Christian Jr./Sr. High School||$331.955.23||79||41||13|
|Blackhawk Christian Elementary School||$543,386.70||137||71||31|
|Saint Therese School||$345,282.86||103||51||32|
|Saint Vincent DePaul School||$35,601.52||158||51||N/A|
|Concordia Lutheran High School||$440,973.26||87||45||21|
|Suburban Bethlehem Lutheran School||$101,405.11||44||23||N/A|
|Concordia Evangelical Lutheran School||$299,761.40||83||42||N/A|
|Emmanuel Saint Michael Lutheran School||$188,186.38||76||21||N/A|
|Emmaus Lutheran School||$188,186.38||50||36||16|
|Holy Cross Lutheran School||$170,400||99||38||N/A|
|Lutheran South Unity School||$575,929.55||125||50||19|
|Cornerstone College Preparatory School||$440,147.82||88||114||92|
|Saint Paul Lutheran School||$355,405.63||83||41||12|
|Acension Lutheran School||$43,851.90||32||N/A||N/A|
|Central Christian School||$328,872.26||78||44||11|
|Saint Peter's Lutheran School||$186,540||74||19||N/A|
|Saint Aloysius Catholic School||$185,814.77||50||16||N/A|
|Horizon Christian Academy 1||$587,289.46||118||46||22|
|Horizon Christian Academy 2||$537,631.90||115||N/A||N/A|
|Horizon Christian Academy 3||$861,293.55||186||17||N/A|
|Saint Joseph Catholic School||$70,108.01||18||N/A||12|
|Saint Joeseh Hessen Cassel Catholic School||$79,478.86||26||14||N/A|
|Saint John the Baptist Catholic School||$435,666.85||119||34||N/A|
|Saint Louis Besancon Catholic School||$154,781.55||39||16||N/A|
|Saint John Emmanuel Lutheran School||$9,400||N/A||N/A||N/A|
|Woodburn Lutheran School||$243,779.89||60||26||N/A|