As Indiana legislators continue to debate the budget in special session, local supporters of Senate Bill 528, a scholarship tax credit program, say they are looking forward to the advantages it could provide in private education.
The legislation is a win-win situation for everyone, said John Schultz, principal at Crown Point-based Trinity Lutheran School.
The Indiana School Scholarship Tax Credit program - introduced during the regular session of the Indiana General Assembly - would provide a 50 percent state tax credit for contributions to scholarship programs that would help low-income families afford a private education.
Trevor Foughty, an Indiana Department of Education spokesman, cautioned that "it's not a voucher system, though it has been wrongly categorized as such." He said the program means the state would give out as much as $5 million in tax credits.
But Indiana Gov. Mitch Daniels strongly supports the bill along with school choice, including charter schools.
Merrillville schools Superintendent Tony Lux said reducing funding for most schools in the state "incredulously" diverts public money away from public schools. He said that money goes toward additional charter schools and tax exemptions for those who make contributions to private schools.
The Indianapolis-based Friedman Foundation for Educational Choice said in a report that the tax credit scholarship program actually would save tax dollars and increase philanthropic support for private education.
"The study clearly puts to bed the myth that a tax credit program would cost the state money," said Robert Enslow, president and CEO of the Friedman Foundation.
"As the data show, the opposite is true. In this case everyone wins. The state wins, taxpayers win, K-12 education wins and most importantly parents and children win."
Trinity Lutheran School Principal John Schultz already has a scholarship fund in place. Of the 225 students in preschool to eighth grade who attend the school, Schultz said about 20 percent of the families receive scholarship assistance.
"Last school year, we provided in excess of $90,000 to families who would not otherwise have been able to afford a Christian education," he said.
Schultz is a member of the board of directors for the Indiana Non-Public Education Association, an organization lobbying for private education that represents Catholic, Lutheran, Christian and private schools across the state.
The measure gives parents a choice that they currently don't have, said Barbara O'Block, superintendent of the Catholic Diocese of Gary.
"It would involve some work for us," she said. "We would have to set up a scholarship granting organization, but it would be well worth the effort."
O'Block said the diocese has talked about developing a program that would include all five diocese in Indiana - the Arch Diocese in Indianapolis, Diocese of Fort Wayne-South Bend, Diocese of Gary, Diocese of Lafayette and Diocese of Evansville.
"The governor has been very supportive, but it's still too early to say what might happen to it," she said.
Father Ron Nuzzi, director of the Remick Leadership Program at ACE at the University of Notre Dame, said the scholarship tax program is very popular in other states, especially Arizona and Pennsylvania.
He said the Diocese of Pittsburgh has been extremely aggressive in its approach and last year accrued almost $2 million for additional charter schools and to provide tax exemptions for those who make contributions to private schools.