Advocates say most Hoosiers want school changes

Supporters of expanded charter schools and school vouchers say most Hoosiers want more education options for their children, and Republican Gov. Mitch Daniels will outline plans Tuesday to bring those choices to more Indiana families, especially low-income ones.

Advocates met at the Statehouse Monday to push education proposals that have renewed life during this legislative session because of support from Daniels and leaders in the GOP-controlled House and Senate. They say a poll they've paid for shows two-thirds of the state supports vouchers and expanded charter schools.

"This session brings the best opportunity for education reform in a generation," said Luke Messer, executive director of School Choice Indiana.

But Daniels told reporters in his office Monday that his voucher proposal — one backed by state Superintendent of Public Instruction Tony Bennett — would only be available for low-income families. He said it's a matter of justice and fairness that low-income families have some of the same options as their wealthy neighbors, who can buy a house in a good school district or pay private school tuition.

"At some point up the income scale, the choice is there — people can live where they want to live, choose a nongovernmental school if they want," Daniels said.

Daniels will discuss his education proposals at length in his annual State of the State address Tuesday. Education will make up the largest single piece of the speech, Daniels said, reflecting the importance he places on the issue.

Some Indiana Democrats have opposed vouchers and have tried to block the expansion of charter schools, which are public schools free of certain regulations and often operate without teacher union contracts.

Democrats will take a back seat during discussions this year because they hold no power in the Statehouse, but some Democrats have started pushing for their own education agenda.

A new advocacy group called Indiana Democrats for Education Reform launched a website Friday outlining their agenda. The group has not taken a stand on vouchers yet because members of the group have differing opinions, said Larry Grau, a member of the group's executive committee.

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