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Pence supports large expansion of voucher program

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Gov. Mike Pence officially threw his support Tuesday behind a major expansion of Indiana's school voucher program that goes well beyond what he campaigned for last year by calling for more vouchers in limited cases.

Pence policy director Marilee Springer told members of the House education committee that the governor supports a sweeping package of education changes that would end a one-year waiting period to obtain the scholarships.

"The governor has consistently stated there's nothing that ales public education that can't be cured by giving teachers more freedom to teach and giving the parents more choices in the education of their children," Springer said.

State law currently requires that students spend at least a year in a public school before qualifying for vouchers to ensure low-income families in failing schools benefit the most. The voucher program provides state aid so students in low- and middle-income families can attend private schools.

Pence hinted at support for the sweeping voucher measure in his State of the State address but said during the campaign he would like to end an income cap for military and foster families and special needs children.

Tuesday's hearing replayed many of the old arguments which contributed to a five-week walkout by Democrats in 2011. Republican supporters, including House Education Chairman Robert Behning of Indianapolis, argued that more choice is necessary to improve education, and Democrats such as Rep. Vernon Smith of Gary said the measure would continue to drain resources from public schools.

The bill's chances remain unclear in the Senate, where Senate Appropriations Chairman Luke Kenley, R-Noblesville, has said the proposal violates an agreement with voucher supporters that vouchers would be limited to low-income families and not serve as a subsidy for wealthy families whose children already attend private schools.

The House measure goes well beyond supporting low-income families, seeking limited vouchers for families who earn 3 times the limit for qualifying for the federal free and reduced lunch program. The U.S. Department of Agriculture set the cap for a family of four at $42,643 last year.

Joel Hand, executive director of the Indiana Coalition for Public Education, pointed out that last provision would qualify families who earn roughly $128,000 for vouchers.

"(The bill) further undermines public education in our state," he said. "All it does is expedite the drain of students and funding from public schools."

The House measure also includes proposal to fund private pre-school programs by matching donations made to independent groups which distribute pre-school vouchers. But most of the roughly three hours of testimony Tuesday focused on the voucher program.

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  • Not every family can benefit from these vouchers
    My tax money is used to fund this program, which in my opinion is primarily for the benefit of Indianapolis. Make it available to children in ALL communities not just those looking for a way out of IPS.
  • hey hoosier lib and Natacha
    Umm - It is the cronies in the teacher's unions that have their panties in a twist. Giving people a choice isn't is the right thing to do.
  • give up
    Unions not getting their kickbacks from government is just to upsetting to the libs. $ should follow kids whether I send to public or private. Indiana courts have already ruled vouchers legal. Quite whining!
  • school choice
    I know for some reason a few teachers I know send their kids to the Orchard School. What do they know about public schools?
  • Anyth;ing to Funnel Tax Dollars to Privateers
    Hoosiers elected Glenda Ritz to head education policy. She should make this decision--after all, isn't Indiana still a democracy? Republicans in general, including Pence, in particular, view public coffers as a resource for their political cronies and also to get votes. Public education does not exist as a money-making opportunity for privateers.
    • Unconstitutional
      I can't wait for this policy to get smacked down in the court. Why Republicans would think that public tax money being used to support private religious education is beyond me. A ruling nullifying this law cannot come soon enough.

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