INDIANAPOLIS – Four underperforming private schools won approval Wednesday to accept more students who receive vouchers under Indiana's school choice program, benefiting from a new law that provides a second chance at avoiding penalties.
The State Board of Education voted 6-2 Wednesday to grant the four waivers. Three of the schools didn't receive enough votes to win approval last month, and the fourth was being considered for the first time.
Indiana has one of the nation's largest programs allowing parents to use taxpayer money to send their children to faith-based or independent schools, with more than 34,000 students in 313 schools receiving vouchers this past school year, according to the state Department of Education.
Under the state's voucher law, private schools that receive state ratings of D or F for three straight years can be barred from accepting new voucher students until school grades improve to C or better two consecutive years. The Republican-dominated Legislature this spring approved allowing the state board to give one-year waivers so private schools can keep accepting new voucher students and additional state funding.
The waivers were granted for Fort Wayne's Lutheran South Unity School and three Indianapolis schools — Central Christian Academy, Turning Point and Trinity Lutheran.
Supporters of granting the waiver said traditional public schools don't face state sanctions until after at least six years of low ratings.
David Sexauer, Central Christian Academy's head of school, said his school wouldn't be seeking the waiver if it were being held to the same standards as public schools.
Board member Steve Yager of Fort Wayne, who joined Gordon Hendry of Indianapolis in voting against the requests, said the voucher-accepting private schools don't have to account for how the state money is spent like public and charter schools must do. Hendry said he's like to see a second year of improvement before allowing the schools to add voucher students.
The board voted 5-3 last month in support of waiver requests from Lutheran South Unity, Central Christian and Turning Point, but six votes were needed for approval.
Board member Vince Bertram of Indianapolis, who was absent from May's meeting, provided that sixth vote Wednesday. Republican state schools Superintendent Jennifer McCormick, who voted against the waivers last month, missed Wednesday's meeting because of illness.