INDIANAPOLIS -- State spending for Indiana's school voucher program grew to $153 million for the 2017-18 academic year and helped more than 35,000 students attend private secular and religious schools.
The 7-year-old program, known as school choice, allows students to use public money to pay for tuition at non-public schools.
A recent Indiana Department of Education report shows that student participation in the voucher program has grown by 3.4 percent this school year. But participation growth has slowed over the past two school years after a 12 percent increase in the 2015-16 academic year.
A department official said the agency doesn't keep information to help identify why growth has slowed.
This year marks a record high for the number of students who are using vouchers and have never attended an Indiana public school. Of the state's 35,458 voucher students this school year, more than 56 percent never attended a public school, compared to about 52 percent three years ago.
The report shows that costs to Indiana public schools continue to rise. In Allen County, the public school districts' costs were estimated to have grown by more than $500,000, to $25.8 million in 2017.
The report estimated financial losses for public school districts based on the number of students living within district boundaries who attend voucher schools.
Julie Hollingsworth, school board president for Fort Wayne Community Schools, said money spent on voucher students would equal an additional $150 per student in public schools throughout Indiana. Fort Wayne Community Schools saw the highest financial hit, more than $20 million, among Indiana public schools.
"Ask any superintendent what he/she could do in his/her district with an extra $150 per student," she said. "Combine that with the fact that public school funding in Indiana has not kept up with inflation since 2009, it is easy to see that public school districts are being asked to do more with fewer resources."