(Indianapolis, Ind.) - A proposal to allow kindergartners and some other students to be immediately eligible for Indiana's private school voucher program has been approved by the Indiana House.
Representatives voted 57-36 largely along party lines Thursday to approve the Republican-backed House Bill 1003, which now goes to the Senate. The proposal was authored by State Rep. Robert Behning (R-Indianapolis).
The bill makes several exemptions in the 2011 law that established the Indiana Choice Scholarship program. There would no longer be a requirement that all students spend at least one year in public schools before becoming eligible for a voucher. The same requirement was lifted for siblings of current voucher students and for children in military and foster families and for children with special needs.
The legislation will increase the Choice Scholarship for students enrolled in grades one through eight to $5,000 in 2014 and $5,500 in 2015.
More than 9,100 students are receiving vouchers this school year. That number is expected to grow to 15,000 in the 2014-15 school year.
HB 1003 also includes a pre-kindergarten scholarship program. Eligible students would need to have a family income at or below 200 percent Free and Reduced Lunch eligibility, be attending preschool for the first time, or have received the scholarship previously.
“This legislation will give many Hoosier students the ability to access areas of education that are currently out of reach due to financial limitations,” said Rep. Behning. “We are telling people that, here in Indiana, our education system knows no boundaries and wants to give every student the best possible start. I firmly believe that every Hoosier student deserves the chance to learn and every parent the choice to decide what is in the best interest of their child.”
Indiana Democrats have largely opposed the bill, arguing that it robs public schools of much-needed funding.
A group of educators are currently pushing a legal challenge to the law. They claim the voucher program is unconstitutional by arguing it violates the separation of church of state – most of the voucher dollars are used to send children to religious schools. The Indiana Supreme Court is considering the case and will issue a ruling later this year.