More school choice options touted, extending vouchers to kindergarteners

2013-01-27T00:00:00Z 2013-01-27T23:41:04Z More school choice options touted, extending vouchers to kindergartenersCarmen McCollum carmen.mccollum@nwi.com, (219) 662-5337 nwitimes.com

As the nation celebrates National School Choice Week today through Friday local and state school choice supporters said they'd like to see changes in the law to give parents even more options.

School choice proponents believe that to improve student achievement, boost graduation rates and improve American competitiveness in a global job market, families must be empowered to choose the best educational options for their children. Those options include high-performing public schools, public charter schools, magnet schools, private schools, digital/online learning and homeschooling.

Lindsey Brown, with School Choice Indiana, is traveling the state along with John Elcesser, executive director of the Indiana Non-Public Education Association; Glenn Tebbe, executive director of the Indiana Catholic Conference; and spokesman Michael Marker to talk about Indiana's School Choice Program. The group met Friday with The Times Editorial Board in Munster.

Signed into law in May 2011, Indiana's first-year voucher program was the biggest in U.S. history, Brown said. In the second year of the program, the 2012-13 academic year, more than 9,000 students participated in the voucher program.

Brown said HB1003 calls for a variety of things, including expanding the program to include kindergarten students. The measure also includes increasing the cap for elementary students to $5,500 from $4,500 in 2013-14, and $6,500 in 2014-15. The measure would also make it easier for military families and children in foster care to get a school voucher.

"We work with parents and families daily," Brown said. "We are hearing a lot of success stories and we're hearing about students thriving in their new environment and benefiting from a school that is a good fit for them. We're also hearing from families who are not eligible to participate for various reasons, including they are just over the income limit or their youngsters already attend private schools."

Across the state, statistics show that 81 percent of the students participating in the voucher program receive free and reduced-cost lunch; 52 percent are white, 20 percent are black and 19 percent are Hispanic.

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