GOP Leaders Push Ahead With Voucher Program

Proposal Among Broadest In Nation

Republican leadership at the Statehouse is pushing ahead with a proposal that would be the nation's broadest use of school vouchers, allowing even middle-class families to use taxpayer money to send their children to private schools.

In an effort to lure House Democrats back from a five-week, self-imposed exile in Illinois, Republicans agreed to reduce the number of vouchers, with a limit of 7,500 the first year and 15,000 the second, 6News' Norman Cox reported.

"This will allow us to start slow, review what's been happening and make sure it makes sense moving forward," said Rep. Tom Dermody, R-LaPorte.

Still, unlike other systems that are limited to lower-income households, children with special needs or those in failing schools, this one would be open to a much larger pool of students, including those whose parents earn up to $60,000 a year.

Another amendment adopted Tuesday would require private schools to use a random draw to determine which students would get the vouchers when there are more than enough qualified applicants.

But Democrats still object to the procedure because to get in the random draw, the students would still have to meet the schools' basic requirements, which could include religious background.

They said they're also afraid the system could also be used for athletic recruiting.

"If they're not 6 feet 7 inches tall, they may not make that criteria. Or if they're not fast, they may not make that criteria. This is dangerous territory," said Rep. Greg Porter, D-Indianapolis.

Students receiving vouchers make up less than 1 percent of enrollment nationwide, but vouchers have been one of the top priorities among conservatives.