2013 Indiana General Assembly

Senate committee shrinks voucher expansion plan

2013-03-27T13:33:00Z Senate committee shrinks voucher expansion planBy Dan Carden dan.carden@nwi.com, (317) 637-9078 nwitimes.com

INDIANAPOLIS | A Senate panel scaled back a House-approved expansion of Indiana's private school voucher program Thursday by keeping most current eligibility requirements and only slightly increasing the value of a voucher.

State Sen. Luke Kenley, R-Noblesville, said he did not believe Indiana could afford the nearly $200 million in extra voucher spending over the next decade if House Bill 1003 was enacted without the changes he persuaded the Senate Education Committee to adopt.

"This is a significantly lower cost than the original bill," Kenley said.

Under the revised legislation, a student must still attend one year at a traditional public school, not including kindergarten or a charter school, to be eligible for a voucher. However, a student whose sibling previously attended a public school would be immediately voucher-eligible.

Students whose local public schools are rated "D" or "F" could also skip the required year of public school attendance and obtain a voucher so long as their family incomes are less than 150 percent of the level needed to qualify for the federal reduced lunch program, which is $43,041 for a family of two or $65,352 for a family of four.

The panel removed provisions backed by Republican Gov. Mike Pence allowing foster children and the children of military personnel and veterans to qualify for vouchers at higher family income levels. 

In addition, the maximum voucher value for grades one through eight would increase to $4,700 from $4,500 over the next two years. The House-approved plan called for an elementary school voucher value of $5,000 for the 2013-14 school year and $5,500 the year after.

The committee voted 8-4 to send the revised legislation to the Tax and Fiscal Policy Committee for further review. Both state Sen. Frank Mrvan, D-Hammond, and Earline Rogers, D-Gary, voted against the measure.

In a separate vote, the panel agreed to strip from House Bill 1004 a preschool pilot program that would have spent $7.2 million to send up to 1,000 4-year-olds to preschool using vouchers.

That legislation, which next goes to the full Senate, now just requires a state agency identify quality preschools.

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