Senate committee passes school voucher expansion following court's decision

Bill could add as many as 5,000 students

INDIANAPOLIS - With the ink barely dry on Tuesday's Supreme Court decision allowing school vouchers, school choice advocates are out pushing their advantage. 

The Senate Education Committee has approved a bill expanding the program, which lets middle- and low-income parents use tax money to send their kids to private schools. 

The bill would allow more students in the voucher program, which currently numbers 9,400, but even sponsors aren't sure how many more students will be allowed.

Sen. Luke Kenley, R-Noblesville, the chamber's main fiscal watchdog, added several changes to the bill, which he said would save considerable money, although sponsors weren't so sure. 

But the bill maintains its original focus of allowing brothers and sisters of voucher recipients to go to private school with them without going through the mandatory one year in public school.

"And it gives the choice scholarship to siblings of the child who has attended a public school," said Kenley. "So that would mean that once one child in the family has attended a public school, if the family chooses to have all the siblings receive the choice scholarships, they can."

The bill would also allow a family to count their child's year in kindergarten as the one year in public school, and sponsors said it would focus the program more closely on children who live in districts with failing schools.

One opponent said it's wrong to allow parents to remove their kids from failing public schools only to put them in failing private ones.

"Currently this program does fund and go to private schools that would have received a D or F under our program," said Sen.Greg Taylor, D-Indianapolis. "And I believe that this issue deserves a little bit more discussion so that we can make sure that the voucher money is going to the correct schools."

But sponsors said failing private schools can keep their current voucher students, but not enroll any new ones.

One school choice advocate believes the total number of students on vouchers next year could increase to 15,000.

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