Indiana News

First Hearing Today on Expanding School Voucher Eligibility

1/9/2013

The first hearing will be held today on a plan to expand the number of children eligible for school vouchers, even as Indiana's voucher program hangs on a case being considered by the state Supreme Court.

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The bill from Republican Senator Carlin Yoder would make siblings of students who receive a taxpayer-funded voucher to attend private school automatically eligible for their own voucher.  Under current law, students must attend at least one of public school before qualifying for a Choice Scholarship, but Yoder says he is acting on complaints he has received from several families who wish to have more than one child attend the same private school.  The bill will be considered by the Senate Education Committee.

There is some concern the bill could take money away from public schools if it is passed.  The Legislative Services Agency, the non-partisan group that calculates how much money bills would cost, says Yoder's proposal could affect the formula used to determine the amount of money the state sends to local schools.  According to the agency's statement on the bill, vouchers are paid for from savings in the tuition support the state sent to the public school the student attended the previous year.  If students who did not attend public school are added to the program, they would not be included in the fiscal support projections, which could throw the formula off kilter.  Yoder says he doesn't see how this is possible, since he says the state spends less on vouchers given to Choice Scholarship participants than it does on per-pupil state aid for public school students.

Teresa Meredith, vice president of the Indiana State Teachers Association and the lead plaintiff in the lawsuit challenging the legality of the voucher program, also has a problem with how the state determines whether families are eligible for the vouchers.  Right now, vouchers are awarded to families based on their income levels, and Meredith says she isn't sure whether the state is checking to see if voucher families meet income requirements.

The Indiana Supreme Court heard arguments in November on the ISTA's challenge to the consitutionality of the voucher program.  The court has not said when it will make a decision.

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