INDIANAPOLIS — More than a quarter of the private Indiana schools taking part in the school voucher program were overpaid nearly $4 million due to tuition miscalculations but have returned that money to the state, a new analysis shows.
The study released Wednesday by the Indiana Non-Public Education Association found 80 of the more than 300 private schools taking part in Indiana's voucher program were overpaid $3.9 million since the program began under a 2011 state law. The program allows Indiana students to use state money to pay for tuition at private schools.
The group's analysis found that the schools that were overpaid had made unintentional errors in calculating school voucher tuition costs.
Indiana Department of Education spokesman Daniel Altman said the agency is not required to audit the voucher program, but emergency rules drafted last year required schools to provide assurances they will follow certain guidelines.
Most of the money — about $3.7 million — that was overpaid and then repaid went to private Catholic schools, said John Elcesser, executive director of the INPEA. He said some schools may have misunderstood the voucher program's complicated guidelines.
"I think it shows that the schools out there that are utilizing the program are policing themselves," Elcesser told The Indianapolis Star. "They're wanting to make sure they're doing it correctly. It's working the way it should. We caught the problem, rectified the situation and reported it."
Indiana Catholic Conference officials said most errors occurred when schools didn't recognize multi-child and employee discounts before calculating the scholarship amount.
Daryl Hagan, superintendent of the Catholic Diocese of Evansville, said Indiana's guidelines for calculating voucher scholarships are complex, with multiple steps that include identifying family income and, if a family qualifies for a scholarship, determining their child's tuition structure.
"It was in those kinds of complex situations that, just because the program was so new, mistakes were made and overpayments were received," he told the Evansville Courier & Press.
Hagan said two of the diocese's schools were overpaid by an amount just under $8,400, but both "have reimbursed the overpayments in full."
Nearly 30,000 Indiana students are estimated to be using vouchers this school year. Last year, the state spent $81 million on school vouchers.