INDIANAPOLIS – INDIANAPOLIS — The final components of Gov. Mitch Daniels’ education reform package – a massive new voucher program and charter school expansion – cleared the Indiana House on Wednesday and could be law within days with just the stroke of a pen.
Two other bills affecting Indiana education have already passed – one reducing collective bargaining rights for teachers and another tying teacher pay to student performance.
“With these enactments and those of the last week, this General Assembly has placed the interests of Hoosier kids first, and placed Indiana first among the states in reforming and improving public education,” Daniels said in a statement.
“Their political courage and their commitment to a great education for every single child deserve the thanks not just of parents but of every citizen; Indiana has a far brighter future because of them.”
The voucher bill passed 55-43, with four Republicans voting against the measure. All area GOP members supported it, with Fort Wayne’s two Democrats against.
House Bill 1003 takes a portion of state funding usually provided to public schools and gives it instead to families who want to send kids to private or parochial schools. It is one of the most expansive programs in the nation because it is not limited to low-income Hoosiers or those in failing schools.
A family of four making less than $61,000 is eligible for a grant worth 50 percent of their local districts’ per-student funding. A similar family making $41,000 or lower would be eligible for a 90 percent voucher.
About 60 percent of Hoosier school kids qualify under the income guidelines.
The amount of the grant is limited to $4,500 for grades 1 through 8, with no cap for high school.
The bill requires students to attend public school for one year before being eligible for vouchers, meaning current private school students could not receive a voucher.
Kindergarten doesn’t count as the one year in public school.
The number of vouchers available statewide would be capped at 7,500 next school year and 15,000 the following year. After that, there is no limit.
The Senate also added a tax deduction for parents who send their kids to private schools or home-school their children. It covers education expenditures, including textbooks, even though there is no similar deduction for public school parents.
“This helps children. It helps children by giving them choices … and empowers families who can’t afford it,” Rep. Jeff Espich, R-Uniondale, said.
The House also voted 61-37 Wednesday to approve a bill meant to greatly expand charter schools in the state. All Republicans and one Indianapolis Democrat voted for the bill.
House Bill 1002 establishes a statewide charter school board that can sponsor new charter schools. It also allows 30 private, non-profit four-year colleges to sponsor charters. Currently, only the mayor of Indianapolis and six public universities are able to do so.
The bill also increases funding for online or virtual charter schools and requires charters to participate more in the accountability law.
“It gives more families options,” House Republican Speaker Brian Bosma said. “It’s a great step forward in that regard.”
But Rep. Matt Pierce, D-Bloomington, said it siphons money from struggling public schools.
“The honest truth is you’re not going to get that many exceptional outcomes in this, and you are going to do it at the risk of damaging traditional public schools,” Pierce said. “It’s a zero-sum game.”