On Thursday, the Indiana Senate approved what could become the nation’s largest school voucher program. If signed by Governor Mitch Daniels (R), the plan will allow Indiana children throughout the state to use a scholarship to attend a private school of their choice.
The proposal, which has already made it through the Indiana House once, must now go back to the House of Representatives since the Senate enhanced the bill’s school choice options by adding a $1,000 tax deduction to the measure to help parents pay for private school or homeschooling expenses.
Indiana’s school choice plan is the most sweeping in the country. The income limit for voucher-eligibility would be set at $61,000 for a family of four. According to the Foundation for Educational Choice, “Scholarship amounts are determined on a sliding scale based on income, with families receiving up to 90 percent of state support.”
Initially, vouchers would be limited to 7,500 children from families with income below 150 percent of the eligibility level for the federal free or reduced lunch program. After two years, 15,000 children from families within the income eligibility limits would be able to receive vouchers. After three years, the cap on the number of students would be lifted, allowing all children from income eligible families to participate. An estimated 62 percent of all Indiana families would be eligible.
From the outset, all families would be eligible for the tax deduction for private and homeschool expenses.
“This is exciting news,” said Robert Enlow, president and CEO of the Foundation for Educational Choice. “We applaud those legislators who stood tall for kids, and we hope the House will concur as soon as possible so that Indiana families who desperately need educational options do not have to wait any longer.”
According to the American Federation for Children, more than 15,000 children could receive scholarships within two years. Chairman Betsy DeVos hailed the move to increase school choice options for families.
This bill will finally give thousands of families what they all deserve, and that’s a choice in the educational future of their children. We thank Governor Daniels and the Indiana Legislature for working so hard to make widespread school choice a reality across the state. We hope that lawmakers across the country will follow their lead in giving educational options to the families that need them most.
In addition to creating what could become the nation’s most aggressive voucher program, the proposal would also expand the existing scholarship tax credit program, which provides tax credits to individuals and corporations who donate to scholarship-granting organizations, which in turn provide vouchers to low-income children to attend a private school of their choice.
In a visit to Valparaiso, Indiana, to talk about his reform agenda, Daniels stated:
Choice will no longer be limited to the well-to-do in our state. If you’re a moderate or low-income family and you’ve tried the public schools for at least a year and you can’t find one that works for your child, you can direct the dollars we were going to spend on your child to the non-government school of your choice. That’s a social justice issue to me.
Indiana has also been on the move to limit the power that education unions hold over local schools. On Wednesday, just one day before the Senate passed the voucher proposal, Daniels signed a bill to limit collective bargaining for education employees. Public-sector teachers will still be able to collectively bargain over salaries and benefits but not over other measures that affect the classroom. According to Bloomberg News:
The bill will prohibit contracts between school districts and teachers unions from including anything other than wages and wage-related benefits starting July 1. … State Superintendent Tony Bennett said the new law gives local leaders freedom by removing restrictions, such as contracts that limit the number of meetings principals can have with teachers.
Indiana is leading the way when it comes to reforming its education system. The Hoosier State is empowering parents through school choice and ensuring it responds to the needs of children, rather than the demands of adults. These are reforms that should be—and are likely to be—mimicked by other reform-minded state leaders throughout the country this year, to the benefit of parents, children, taxpayers, and teachers.