INDIANAPOLIS | Two education proposals backed by Gov. Mike Pence that would expand eligibility for Indiana's private school voucher program and extend state voucher funding to pre-kindergarten students were approved Thursday by a House committee.
House Bill 1003 eliminates voucher income eligibility limits for students who meet certain criteria including foster children, disabled students, siblings of current voucher recipients and children of a parent now serving or honorably discharged from the U.S. armed forces.
The legislation also increases the $4,500 maximum voucher value for students in grades one through eight to $5,500 for the 2013-14 school year and to $6,500 for 2014-15.
The nonpartisan Legislative Services Agency has yet to calculate the future cost of expanded voucher eligibility and increased voucher value but said it "is likely to be significant."
House Bill 1004 creates a two-year pilot program in five to-be-named Indiana counties that would provide low-income parents up to $6,800 to send their 3- or 4-year-old children to preschool for 180 days or more in a year.
According to LSA, about 52,000 children statewide would be eligible for the program but only 1,000 preschool vouchers would be available in the five selected counties. The pilot program has a $7.2 million price tag.
State Rep. Robert Behning, R-Indianapolis, the sponsor of the legislation, said Indiana is well behind other states in preschool funding.
"It's one of the areas where we really haven't done anything and where there is probably the greatest need," Behning said.
The budget-writing House Ways and Means Committee still must review the cost of both programs before the legislation can advance to the full House.