According to an Associated Press (AP) report in the Chicago Tribune, the Indiana House education committee has begun debate on one of the most controversial planks of Republican Gov. Mitch Daniels’ sweeping education platform: a plan to use taxpayer money to help parents send their children to private schools. Of all Daniels’ proposed education reforms, the voucher bill seems to be raising the most questions. Opponents are criticizing the proposal’s basic principle, shifting public money to private schools, while some lawmakers have more practical concerns that supporters hope to address by amending the bill. “I think there are more questions about this bill among lawmakers than some of the other (education) proposals,” said House Speaker Brian Bosma, one of the bill’s sponsors.
Under the plan, money that would typically go to a public school for educating a child would be given to an eligible parent to use at a private school instead. The state won’t give parents the entire amount that would have gone to the public school, however, which could mean the state could save money through the program. Only students currently in public schools would be eligible. The bill uses a sliding scale that gives the most needy families larger vouchers worth 90% of the per-student amount that the student’s public school receives. Bosma said supporters hope to tweak the bill to tighten eligibility requirements to focus on lower-income families.
Daniels says it’s a matter of justice that low-income students should have the same choice to attend private schools as wealthier families. He and other advocates say Indiana could lead the nation by creating a wide-reaching statewide voucher program. “We intend to become the first state of full and true choice by saying to every low- and middle-income Hoosier family, ‘If you think a non-government school is the right one for your child, you’re as entitled to that option as any wealthy family; here’s a voucher, go sign up.’” Daniels said.
Public school teachers have denounced the voucher proposal, saying it is part of Daniels’ agenda to erode public education. The Indiana Coalition for Public Education held a news conference Monday saying taxpayer money shouldn’t be directed to private schools, which can deny admission to certain students and don’t have to follow the same accountability rules as public schools. “By providing vouchers for private schools, we are diverting public tax money to private schools,” said Joel Hand, the group’s executive director. “That is not taxpayer-friendly to our Hoosier citizens and it is not good policy.” Hand said vouchers blur the line between separation of church and state. He also noted that private schools can deny students admission, and he feared the bill would reverse the state’s progress on desegregation efforts. “Public schools are open to all,” he said. “Private schools get to pick and choose.” Hand suggested that the bill could be found unconstitutional, but Bosma said constitutional lawyers have reviewed the proposal and assured him it would stand up in court.
Source: Chicago Tribune, 2/14/11, By Deanna Martin
[Editor's Note: Whether Indiana's proposed voucher system would "stand up in court" may depend on a decision to be handed down by the Supreme Court in 2011. As reported in The Washington Post in November 2010, the Court heard oral argument in the consolidated cases of Arizona Christina School Tuition Organization v. Winn, 09-987, and Garriott v. Winn, 09-991. The question before the justices is whether Arizona's tuition tax credit program, which allows taxpayers to obtain a dollar-for-dollar state tax credit for money donated to organizations that award scholarships for private (including religious) school tuition, violates the U.S. Constitution's Establishment Clause. NSBA filed an amicus brief in the case supporting the Arizona residents challenging the tuition tax credit program. A summary of the Post article, with an editor's note discussing and linking to NSBA's amicus brief, is available at the first link below.
In November 2010, the Washington Times reported that a DC voucher program enjoys widespread support among the incoming U.S. House Republican majority. A spokeswoman for Rep. John Kline (R-MN), likely chairman of the House Education and Labor Committee, said Kline and other House leaders continue to support the D.C. Opportunity Scholarship program and intend to pursue its revival. A summary of the article is available at the second link below.]