INDIANAPOLIS — Indiana could soon become the nation's leader for use of school vouchers if unprecedented growth in the state's school choice program continues.
The Indiana Department of Education reports more than 20,000 students have signed up for the three-year-old voucher program for the 2013-2014 school year. That's more than double last year's number.
The numbers put Indiana second in the nation for use of the vouchers, which give qualifying families public money to offset tuition costs at private schools. Milwaukee has more than 24,000 students enrolled in its program, while Ohio has just under 16,000. But both of those programs grew slowly over many years, the Indianapolis Star reported.
School choice advocates say they aren't surprised by Indiana's rapid growth, especially in Indianapolis. Marion County accounted for 30 percent of all voucher students statewide last year.
"The growth in Indiana's voucher program is amazing, but not totally unexpected given the quality of the non-public schools in and around Marion County," said Robert Enlow, CEO of the Indianapolis-based Friedman Foundation, which advocates for vouchers nationally.
How much money a student receives depends on the family's income and the school district they live in. The maximum is $4,700 for elementary school students.
Experts say they don't expect to see the number of students applying for vouchers to continue to double because there aren't enough spaces available in private schools. A 2010 study indicated that there were about 22,000 vacant seats available in private schools in Indiana.
That number has likely grown, but another space study is planned.