INDIANAPOLIS (AP) — Indiana will create the nation’s broadest private school
voucher system and enact other sweeping education changes, making the state
a showcase of conservative ideas just as Gov. Mitch Daniels nears an
announcement on whether he will make a 2012 presidential run.
The Republican-controlled state Legislature handed Daniels a huge victory
Wednesday when the GOP-led House voted 55-43 to give final approval to a
bill creating the controversial voucher program. It would allow even
middle-class families to use taxpayer money to send their children to
Unlike other systems that are limited to lower-income households, children
with special needs or those in failing schools, Indiana’s voucher program
will be open to a much larger pool of students, including those already in
excellent schools. Families would have to meet certain income limits to
qualify, with families of four making up to about $60,000 a year getting
some type of scholarship.
Daniels’ agenda mirrors ideas being pushed nationwide by Republicans
empowered by 2010 election victories. But Daniels has successfully led
Indiana — a conservative state not known for going out on a limb — into
uncharted education territory.
“Other states are going to be taking notice about how far Indiana’s going,”
said Robert Enlow, president of the Foundation for Educational Choice.
The successes couldn’t come at a better time for the two-term governor, who
has said he’ll announce his intentions on a possible White House run
sometime after the legislative session ends Friday.
Daniels said in a statement Wednesday that the General Assembly’s passage of
the education bills put “the interests of Hoosier kids first, and placed
Indiana first among the states in reforming and improving public education.”
House Speaker Brian Bosma, R-Indianapolis, said Daniels is thinking of
what’s best for students, not his own political ambitions, when advocating
the education overhaul.
"I’m sure he’s not worried about a presidential run,” Bosma said.
The bills approval Wednesday brought applause from state Republicans, school
choice advocates and others who said Indiana would become a model for the
rest of the country.
“Indiana is now at the forefront of a national movement that demands all
children receive the academic tools necessary for success,” State
Superintendent for Public Instruction Tony Bennett said in statement.
Opponents say Daniels’ agenda will hurt public schools by taking money and
students away from them.
“He says that his motivation is to improve student achievement, but so many
of these reform measures are not aimed at improving student achievement,”
said Nate Schnellenberger, president of the state’s largest teachers union.
“He wouldn’t be siphoning public money from public schools if he was
concerned about those students who remain at public schools.”
The voucher proposal was a key reason behind a five-week boycott earlier
this session by House Democrats, who returned to the state after winning
concessions on the voucher bill and other legislation. Democrats also
opposed other parts of Daniels’ agenda.
The House voted 61-37 for Daniels’ proposal aimed at expanding charter
schools, which are public schools free of many state regulations. The bill
allows more entities to authorize charter schools and lets charter schools
cheaply buy unused buildings owned by traditional school corporations. The
bill also increases accountability rules for charters.
Rep. Matt Pierce, D-Bloomington, said every dollar that flows to charter
schools is going to flow away from public schools at a time when they are
struggling to provide services.
“It’s a zero sum game,” he said.
Legislators previously have approved including merit pay for teachers and
restrictions on teacher collective bargaining. Daniels has already signed
the restrictions on collective bargaining into law and is expected to sign
the other education bills in coming days.
The state is expected to get the most attention for the voucher bill,
however. Vouchers are government-issued certificates that can be applied to
private tuition, essentially allowing parents to use some of the tax dollars
that would normally be sent to public schools at other institutions.
The vouchers themselves do not carry any additional expense for the state
because they mainly transfer money between schools. But the bill includes a
tax deduction of $1,000 for each child in a private school or home school.
That will translate into a revenue loss of more than $3 million, according
to the nonpartisan Legislative Services Agency.
Students receiving vouchers make up less than 1 percent of school enrollment
nationwide, but vouchers have been one of the top priorities among
conservatives. Indiana’s program would be limited to just 7,500 students for
the first year and 15,000 in the second, a fraction of the state’s
approximately 1 million students. But within three years, there would be no
limit on the number of children who could enroll.
The actual value of the vouchers would be based on a sliding scale and would
be less than the amount of tax money a public school would have received for
that student. In the case of students in grades 1 through 8, the maximum
value would be $4,500.