While vouchers are not moving this legislative session in Georgia, an expansive bill — the broadest in the country — was passed by the Indiana House this week and is expected to also pass the Senate. The bill phases in school vouchers, but eventually enables even middle-class families to receive tax dollars for private schools.
A bill to give tax dollars to some families to pay for private school tuition is headed to the Senate for debate.
The House voted 56-42 for House Bill 1003, with four Republicans joining 38 Democrats in opposition.
Democrats argued that there is no solid evidence that giving vouchers to students improves their performance or forces public schools to do better to retain students, and that it will drain money from public schools when they are facing budget cuts.
“Why would you want to vote for a bill that siphons money away from public schools, that does not improve student achievement and entangles the government with religious and private schools? I say that’s a three-time loser, and we should vote no on this bill,” argued Rep. Matt Pierce, D-Bloomington.
And Rep. Ed DeLaney, D-Indianapolis, said it will hurt charitable contributions like the ones he has made to support Catholic schools, as people decide not to give their own money if tax dollars are available. And with those tax dollars come government interference, he said.
“Where power and money goes, control goes,” DeLaney said. “The state will, by its nature, assert authority.”
Republicans, though, said this is about Indiana’s children, period.
“Which one of us wants to pick the child that doesn’t get this choice?” asked Rep. Rhonda Rhoads, R-Corydon, who is a retired teacher.
House Speaker Brian Bosma, R-Indianapolis, said he comes from a family of teachers. This, he said, is not about dismantling public schools or criticizing public school teachers.
“This is about promoting opportunity, focused tightly on those that have no choice today,” he said. “I’m not here to condemn a system or to condemn a profession, but I’m not here to protect a system, either.”
Instead, he said, this is about giving parents without the same financial means that many legislators have the same options to choose a private school.
The bill, co-authored by Bosma and Rep. Robert Behning, R-Indianapolis, would give a student a percentage of the money that would have gone to his or her local public school. A student whose family’s income equals 100 percent of the threshold to qualify for free or reduced-cost lunches would get 90 percent of that money. For a student whose family’s income equals 150 percent of that threshold, the student would get 50 percent of the money.
That means a family of four with an income of $61,000 would qualify for vouchers at the 50 percent level.
The remaining school money a student does not qualify for is spread among all Indiana public schools. Democrats argued that because that money doesn’t stay with the public school the student would have attended, and that private schools tend to be in urban areas, districts such as those in Lake and Marion counties will be hurt.
Democrats had held out for changes to this bill during their five-week walkout that ended Monday. Among the changes: Republicans agreed to limit the number of vouchers available to 7,500 in the first year and 15,000 in the second.
That cap disappears in the third year.
During a Statehouse rally earlier Wednesday, several hundred education reform proponents urged legislators to hold steady on reforms, saying Indiana has a historic opportunity to tilt its education system toward parental choice.
Michelle Rhee, the former chancellor of schools in Washington, D.C., who now runs a school reform nonprofit, was a featured speaker. “We have the opportunity in Indiana today for this state to be leading the change across the rest of the nation,” Rhee said.
–From Maureen Downey, for the AJC Get Schooled blog