Indiana voucher expansion proposal linked to The Crossing

An Elkhart based school for at risk youth is in the middle of the debate over a proposed expansion of Indiana’s private school voucher program.

The Crossing is seeking legislative changes designed to better keep kids off the street.

“Of our student population, 17 percent, or 222 are currently with us on a voucher,” The Crossing’s Curt Merlau testified before the Indiana Senate Appropriations Committee. “We enroll about 189 students between September 1st, the current voucher enrollment deadline, and the end of the first semester.”

School leaders don’t like the fact that Indiana has just one voucher application period that runs six weeks before the start of the fall semester. The Crossing serves students who have dropped out, or have been expelled from more traditional schools and those students tend to enroll in the spring or second semester.

“We buried 17 kids in our 13 years. We’re not going to bury anymore on our watch, so some may tar and feather us for taking vouchers. We say we don’t care because these students are literally dying on the streets if they don’t come to us,” said Merlau.

The Crossing was the inspiration for Senate Bill 334 that calls for a second window during which voucher applications would be accepted leading up to the spring or second semester.

The new enrollment period would run from September 2nd through January 15th.

“We have stood against the expansion of vouchers since the beginning,” said Vic Smith with the Indiana Coalition for Public Education. Smith said there was no language in the bill that would limit spring vouchers to at risk youth: “If you could tighten it and focus only on students in need that would be moving in the right direction.”

One fiscal analysis projected that the move could cost the state $2 million per year.

SB 334 passed committee by a vote of 11-to-2 after author Sen. Carlin Yoder, (R) Middlebury agreed to push back the effective date from July of 2016 to July of 2017.