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Voucher foes focus more on money than kids

As state legislators consider common-sense fixes to Indiana’s school choice legislation in coming weeks, we are likely to hear many emotionally charged claims that Indiana’s school choice program is hurting schools.

With all due respect to opponents of school choice, it appears their arguments are more about money than about students.

For example, a March 15 Journal Gazette editorial decried that “... House Bill 1003 increases the minimum voucher payment to $5,500 by 2015. It allows all kindergartners from income-eligible families to receive a voucher, as well as the children of veterans currently attending private schools. Special education students in private schools also would qualify. Foster children in income-eligible families would qualify, along with the siblings of all children currently receiving a voucher, regardless of whether they ever attended a public school.”

The editorial focuses on the dollars that will follow these children into their school of choice, but it doesn’t address the reasons why opponents would want to deny vouchers to kindergartners, veterans’ children, foster children or special-needs students.

As a representative of area Lutheran schools and vice chairman of the Indiana Non-Public School Association, it seems clear to me that the goal of public funding for education, including the voucher program, is the same as it ever has been.

It’s all about meeting the needs of kids and their families.

Lutheran schools and other non-public schools are strong options for all Hoosiers, not just the wealthy. The proposed changes are family-friendly and student-centered. Our state has already voted to support school choice. Why should that choice be limited arbitrarily?

Opponents have raised an alarm about the cost of vouchers for kindergartners, veterans’ kids, foster children and special-needs students.

The actual cost, however, is a tiny fraction of the $1.2 billion dollars allocated by our state for education.

What attracts students – both those who receive vouchers and those who do not – to our non-public schools? A caring, nurturing environment. Respect shown to students, parents, and teachers. A challenging curriculum that empowers students to learn.

As Hoosiers, we want all students to be successful. Under current law, more than 9,000 Indiana children have additional options for success.

HB 1003 makes some common sense adjustments to an already-successful program. It eliminates some hoops for families to jump through. It provides benefits to children who should not be excluded.

Let’s bring some student-centered common sense to the public debate and support HB 1003.

It’s the right choice for Indiana’s children.

Mark Muehl is director of the Lutheran Schools Partnership. He wrote this for The Journal Gazette.