INDIANAPOLIS | The Senate approved a scaled-down expansion of Indiana's private school voucher program Wednesday that still will enable the number of voucher students to grow to an estimated 15,000 by 2015, from 9,000 this year.
The growth mostly comes by changing eligibility standards pertaining to an existing law that requires all voucher students attend public school for one year to qualify for a voucher.
The Senate agreed to allow siblings of voucher students who previously attended public school to immediately qualify for a voucher and to count kindergarten attendance.
In addition, students living in school corporations with a D or F-rated school, and who meet the income limits, could obtain a voucher without ever attending public school.
"It's not the aggressive, substantial bill that we saw come out of the House, but it still leaves some breathing room for families that need this," said state Sen. Carlin Yoder, R-Middlebury, sponsor of House Bill 1003.
State Sen. Karen Tallian, D-Ogden Dunes, said growth in the voucher program, which pulls state tax dollars from public education to pay student tuition at private schools, is becoming unsustainable, with a projected cost of $49 million next year and $63 million in 2015.
"We can't keep doing this without some caps on either the amount of money or the number of students," Tallian said.
Seven of the eight Northwest Indiana senators, including two Republicans, voted against the measure. State Sen. Brandt Hershman, R-Buck Creek, voted yes.
The proposal now goes to a House-Senate conference committee where representatives and senators will devise compromise legislation that must be approved again by both chambers before it can go to the governor.