2015 School Choice Series: The Midwest (East North Central)

Noodle’s 2015 series provides a state-by-state overview of school choice options. In this article, you'll find descriptions of the available options in each of the East North Central states, relevant state and regional news items and debates, and resources for further research.

Whether you’re an advocate or a critic of school choice, it only directly affects you if it’s an option where you live.

Noodle has put together a state-by-state overview of school choice options in 2015. You can find descriptions of the available options, relevant state and regional news items and debates, and resources for further research. This article focuses on the East North Central states: Illinois, Indiana, Michigan, Ohio, and Wisconsin. You can also follow this link to learn more about what school choice is.

School Choice in Illinois

Among the school choice options in Illinois are individual tax credits. Via the state’s program, individuals can claim up to $500 in educational expenses per family. The credit is nonrefundable (and cannot reduce the amount of an individual’s tax responsibility to less than $0); moreover, parents need to spend at least $2,250 to receive the maximum credit. This credit can be used for private school expenses.

Additionally, the state has limited online schools and some schools that offer supplemental online classes. The full-time online school option requires students to meet for class in person once a week.

The state also has limited open enrollment options. Students can only transfer to schools beyond their home districts; however, the neighboring districts are not obligated to accept these transfers.

A Special Case: Chicago

In Chicago (and in the state at large), school choice is a hot-button issue. This is due in part to worrisome academic performance measures. At present, only six percent of high school students in Chicago public schools are expected to be college-ready. And more than 50 percent of Chicago's fourth grade public school students don't meet reading proficiency guidelines.

Many believe that charter schools can help bring Chicago students up to grade level. Demand for charter school classroom spots far exceeds supply. In 2013, the Illinois Network of Charter Schools reported that Chicago had 53,000 students in 96 charter schools, with 20,000 students on waiting lists. Currently, charter schools have limited access to government funding and are not able to use public school building space.

Despite lobbying by major advocacy groups, the state government has not passed laws that benefit school choice and charter schools. Reportedly, the state's new governor, Bruce Rauner, has favorable views on school choice, however.

Charter schools face opposition from the Chicago Teachers' Union, which opposes their labor policies. Meanwhile, private school advocates want the approximately $6,000 of state funds per student to be available as tuition subsidies in a school choice program.

Resources for Further Research

School Choice in Indiana

Indiana has three options for private school choice.

First among these are tax credit scholarships, which are available for individuals or businesses donating to organizations that provide education scholarships.

Next are tax deductions, which allow parents who homeschool or have private school expenses to avail themselves of up to $1,000 in tax deductions.

Finally, the state offers vouchers, which are a type of payment the state makes to offset the tuition at participating private schools. Tuition subsidies via vouchers are also called "choice scholarships."

In fact, Indiana has one of the largest voucher programs in the nation, with almost 30,000 students applying for voucher funds. Via this program, tax dollars for public schools are instead used to help fund private school tuition.

The voucher program was launched in 2011 and, with steadily increasing enrollment, has quintupled in size. Many analysts attribute the upswing to relaxed policies surrounding voucher use. For instance, there is no limit to the number of vouchers that the state can distribute. Indiana also adjusted the income threshold for families who can avail themselves of vouchers, thus further broadening the reach of the program. Last year, about 40 percent of student participants in this program had never been enrolled in the state’s public schools.

At present, the maximum cap is $4,700 per student for elementary school, and there is no cap for high school. Religious schools currently receive the largest number of voucher students.

Resources for Further Research

School Choice in Michigan

Michigan has a state law that prohibits vouchers, so its primary school choice program is through charter schools, which are burgeoning.

School choice issues are decided at the local district level, rather than statewide. Districts are allowed to limit new admittances, but they can't be prevented from keeping students in their home districts from transferring out. Some argue that this standard leads to huge financial losses for school districts with transferring students. Because Michigan allows interdistrict and intradistrict open enrollment, nearly 100,000 students attend a school outside their home district, and 130,000 attend public charter schools. There are also limited public online schools.

Resources for Further Research

School Choice in Ohio

School choice options in Ohio include an interdistrict and intradistrict open enrollment program, as well as online schools.

Ohio also has five private school choice voucher programs:

Income-Based Scholarship Program: This is usually available for income-qualified kindergarteners, with the next grade added in each subsequent year. Families receive up to $4,250 in tuition supplements for private schools.

Jon Peterson Special Needs Scholarship Program: Parents of children with special needs can receive vouchers for private school tuition and services by therapists.

Educational Choice Scholarship Program: Via this program, students in low-performing public schools receive vouchers to attend private schools.

Autism Scholarship Program: Students with autism may receive up to $20,000 per year in reimbursement for private school tuition or services.

Cleveland Scholarship and Tutoring Program: Cleveland parents can receive vouchers to send their children to districts that are outside of, but close to, the city limits.

The School Choice Ohio organization has a tool that allows families to determine the programs and vouchers for which they may be eligible.

Resources for Further Research

School Choice in Wisconsin

In Wisconsin, you'll find many school choice options: private schools with voucher programs and a tax deduction; interdistrict and intradistrict open enrollment; online schools; and charter schools.

Depending on eligibility, the voucher programs provide state aid to participating families. Eligibility and program types depend on a student's location — either inside or outside Milwaukee and Racine.

The school choice program is controversial in the state, primarily due to funding issues. Governor Scott Walker is in favor of the program and has pledged to expand it. His recently-defeated opponent in the gubernatorial race argued that students in the voucher program did not perform better than those in public schools. This contentious debate hinges on whether or not the program depletes funding for existing public schools — and what and whom the program benefits.

Resources for Further Research

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