Gov. Mike Pence signs school voucher expansion
Governor indicates possible future expansion
Last Updated: 213 days ago
INDIANAPOLIS - As he signed a measure to expand Indiana's two-year-old private school voucher program, Gov. Mike Pence signaled that he could push to once again grow the program in the coming years.
The new Republican governor signed the voucher expansion into law while surrounded by 147 students from seven schools who had packed into an auditorium at Calvary Christian School, on the south side of Indianapolis.
The students held signs with slogans such as "School Choice Now!" and "I Yearn to Learn!" The signs carried "Ed Reform Rocks!" logos, referring to the rally held at the Statehouse earlier this year by pro-voucher advocates.
"I believe it's the right thing to provide parents, regardless of their income, quality educational options for their children," Pence said. "It's the right thing to ensure that our children are not required to attend schools that don't work for them because their parents don't have the financial means to relocate or send them to a different school. And it's certainly the right thing to allow more kids here in the Hoosier state to join the more than 9,300 students who are already taking advantage of Indiana's choice scholarship program."
To qualify for a voucher under the original program, students' families needed to earn less than 150 percent of the amount that would allow them to receive free or reduced lunches – and also spend at least a year in a public school.
The measure Pence signed on Thursday would allow students who would attend F-rated schools to qualify for a voucher without spending a year in public school. It also increases the income eligibility limits for students with special needs and the children of military veterans.
"There's nothing that ails education that can't be fixed by giving parents more choices and teachers more freedom to teach," Pence said. "We have tens of thousands of kids that still have to get up and go to school every day in this state in environments that are struggling – in D- and F-rated schools. I'm grateful that the General Assembly this year kept the focus on the kids and was willing to take a step toward expanding educational choice opportunities in a responsible way to families."
Alongside Pence for the bill-signing event was House Education Committee Chairman Robert Behning, the Indianapolis Republican who shepherded the initial voucher program into law and pushed this year for a larger expansion of it.
He said he anticipates the state's voucher program, which currently includes more than 9,300 students, to fill most of the seats that private schools currently have available.
"I would say close to 25,000 in the next two or three years," Behning said.
Republicans' approach to education reform has split among two approaches. Some favor choice programs such as vouchers and charter schools for all and believe it should be up to parents to determine the quality of those options; others favor a more targeted approach intended to help those with lower incomes or in failing schools.
The House approved Behning's version of the measure, but it drew a more chilly reception in the Senate, where President Pro Tem David Long, R-Fort Wayne, said some lawmakers are suffering from "education reform fatigue."
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