INDIANAPOLIS (AP) - Republican lawmakers scaled back a proposal Monday that
could have opened Indiana’s private school voucher system to thousands of
Changes approved by the House Ways and Means Committee would allow
kindergarteners and some other students to be immediately eligible for the
program if their families meet income limits. But the committee removed a
provision that would have waived the requirement for current private school
students to spend at least one year in public schools before seeking a
The state budget proposal from House Republicans includes increased funding
for what is already the country’s largest voucher program by about
two-thirds to $63 million over the next two years.
Budget writers decided that opening up the voucher program to non-public
school students would be too great an extra cost, although how much is
Ways and Means Committee Chairman Tim Brown, R-Crawfordsville, said Monday
the broader eligibility provision was estimated to cost between $17 million
and $40 million a year, while a report by the nonpartisan Legislative
Services Agency on a similar proposal last year found the annual cost could
reach $115 million.
Brown said allowing children entering kindergarten to be eligible for the
vouchers would have a much smaller budget impact and that his changes
weren’t a move against opening the program to more students.
“Right now, the decisions were made on how it fits in our overall (budget)
puzzle,” Brown said.
The committee voted 14-7, largely along party lines, to send the bill to the
full Republican-controlled House for consideration.
House education committee Chairman Robert Behning, R-Indianapolis, sponsored
the broader expansion but said he agreed with the committee’s changes.
"Making kindergarten the starting point is what we really wanted,” he said.
The bill also would eliminate the requirement that siblings of current
voucher students first attend a public school for a year before becoming
eligible. Other changes would loosen eligibility requirements for children
in military and foster families and for special-needs children.
The 2011 legislative debate over creating the voucher program ended with a
compromise that public school should have a chance to first win over parents
- and some legislative leaders have questioned whether making exceptions
would go against that agreement.
Behning said he had backed that requirement then in order to limit the cost
of the program, but said that the state’s finances are now in better shape.
“I don’t think the agreement was that from this time henceforth we will
never change this,” Behning said.
Two leading advocacy groups for private schools - the Indiana Catholic
Conference and the Indiana Non-Public Education Association - both spoke in
favor of the proposal Monday.
Rep. Terry Goodin, D-Austin, questioned continued moves to increase funding
for the voucher program and charter schools at what he said was the expense
of traditional public schools.
“I don’t think the state of Indiana has enough money to fund three separate
school systems,” said Goodin, the superintendent of the Crothersville school
district. “Just to continue to plug away and to pull out money from certain
groups to aid others, I think it is going to be very difficult.”
The House Republican budget proposal forecasts spending for the voucher
program to grow over the next two years from the current $37 million a year
to $63 million annually. That projects the number of students in the voucher
program going from about 9,100 this year to 15,000 in the 2014-2015 school