Parents who use Indiana’s rapidly growing voucher program say the opportunity for their kids to get religious instruction at school was the most important reason they chose their schools.

Vouchers redirect public funds to pay private school tuition for poor and middle-income families. A survey released today by the Indianapolis-based Friedman Foundation, which advocates nationally for vouchers and school choice, found instruction in morals, character and values, along with a belief that private schools were better academically, were the other top reasons parents cited for using vouchers. (Friedman also supports Chalkbeat. Learn more about our funding here.)

Indiana’s voucher program has exploded to become the nation’s biggest for general education students since it was established just five years ago. More than 32,000 kids used vouchers for private school tuition last school year.

The program redirects tax dollars from school districts that voucher students would have attended. Eligibility is determined based on income and family size. The state also has a separate tax-credit scholarship program that supports private school students with scholarships.

Invited to participate via email, 2,056 parents completed the survey. Parents were asked about why they choose their current school, what made them leave their previous school, how they found information about schools and whether or not the public school district supported their decision.

  • Parents were asked to select the most important reasons they choose their private school, and 39 percent said a religious environment was the most important reason. Better academics (20 percent), morals/character/values (19 percent), one-on-one time with teachers (6 percent) and smaller classes (4 percent) were also among the top five reasons.
  • The top reasons parents identified for leaving their previous schools were similar. A lack of a religious environment (35 percent), academic quality (31 percent) and lack of morals or character instruction (31 percent) were the top-cited reasons. Parents were also able to provide open-ended responses to this question.
  • Nearly all the parents surveyed — 93 percent — said they were very satisfied or somewhat satisfied with their current schools, though 53 percent said they were also very satisfied or somewhat satisfied with their previous schools.

Friedman conducted a parent-satisfaction survey in 2013, which found some similar results. In the original survey, 52 percent of parents cited a desire for a religious environment and 62 percent identified better academics as reasons for using the program. Approximately 685 of the parents who completed the survey had participated in the 2013 study.

Read more of the survey results here.