INDIANAPOLIS (AP) — Republican Gov. Mitch Daniels on Thursday signed into
law a plan giving Indiana the nation’s most sweeping private school voucher
Lawmakers and supporters joined Daniels at a Statehouse ceremony where he
signed the voucher bill and another proposal aimed at expanding charter
schools, which are public schools free of many state regulations. Daniels
and other bill supporters say the proposals will give parents more choices
for educating their children.
"Every child is precious,” Daniels told the crowd, including children from
several private schools. “Every child deserves an equal chance to be all
they can be.”
The voucher program uses taxpayer money to help parents send their children
to private and religious schools. The plan is based on a sliding income
scale, with families of four making more than $60,000 qualifying for some
level of scholarship if they switch from public to private schools.
Legislative leaders and education advocates said the bill signing marked a
historic day, and that the nation is watching Indiana as it embarks on a new
level of school choice.
“Things have changed,” said Senate President Pro Tem David Long, R-Fort
Wayne. “Indiana is heading in a brand new direction and we are not looking
Critics say vouchers blur the line between separation of church and state
and spread scarce education money too thin. The proposal was a key reason
behind a five-week boycott of the Legislature by House Democrats, who
returned to the Statehouse from Illinois only after winning concessions on
the voucher bill and other proposals.
Republicans around the country are pushing to expand voucher programs after
the GOP made big gains in the 2010 elections. But Indiana’s proposal differs
from existing programs.
Other systems across the country are limited to lower-income households,
children with special needs or those in failing schools.
Indiana’s program would be open to a much larger pool of students, including
those already in excellent schools. Indiana’s program will be limited to
just 7,500 students for the first year and 15,000 in the second, a fraction
of the state’s about 1 million students. But within three years, there will
be no limit on the number of children who could enroll.
Superintendent of Public Instruction Tony Bennett said the state Department
of Education is working on the logistics of the program now. He hopes to
have an online application process running in plenty of time for parents to
make decisions about their children’s schooling during the next academic
The education proposals enacted into law Thursday are a major part of
Daniels’ aggressive education agenda. The GOP-ruled General Assembly
approved all of the governor’s proposals, handing him big legislative
victories as he considers whether to run for president.
The vouchers themselves do not carry any additional expense for the state
because they mainly transfer money between schools. The actual value of the
vouchers is based on a sliding scale and is 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.
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.