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Vouchers: Do what we didn't say

Indiana Statehouse reporters asked a simple question last week and got an interesting response:

What's the goal of the voucher bill?

As Lesley Stedman Weidenbener writes, the answer has shifted from helping students escape from failing schools to "empowering parents." House Speaker Brian Bosma insists the goal was always the latter, challenging the reporters to look back to his caucus' "Strengthening Indiana Plan."

So Stedman Weidenbener did, and discovered Bosma was wrong. The plan, written before Election Day and before Republicans were boldly using the "v" word, states: "Provide children who attend failing schools grants to attend a school of choice."

Oops. Nothing there about empowering parents whose kids attend successful schools.

It's an important point because the bill wouldn't limit vouchers to families without the means to move to a better school district. A family of four earning as much as $60,000 a year would qualify for a tax handout – and that figure is reduced from the original Republican proposal that would have given a voucher to families earning more than $100,000 a year.

Republicans seem to have figured out that Hoosiers aren't thrilled with the idea of giving tax dollars to families earning more than the statewide household median income. Television commercials paid for by the governor's political action committee, Aiming Higher, claim that vouchers will help "a child trapped in an underperforming school who has no chance at a great education."

Another clue that the voucher goal wasn't so transparent is found in the fact that four of Bosma's caucus members voted no, a good indication that they believe "empowering parents" isn't the best use of the state's scarce education dollars.

Karen Francisco, editorial page editor for The Journal Gazette, has been an Indiana journalist since 1981. She writes frequently about education for The Journal Gazette opinion pages and here, where she looks at the business, politics and science of learning as it relates to northeast Indiana, the state and the nation. She can be reached at 260-461-8206 or by e-mail at