Updated: May 12, 2013 1:59PM
INDIANAPOLIS — School vouchers moved through the Senate Wednesday, allowing access to the scholarship program for siblings of a student who qualifies.
House Bill 1003 expands vouchers to students with special education needs, siblings of those who already qualify for the voucher scholarship, and those living in failing school districts. It also lowers the requirement of attending a public school to kindergarten instead of first grade.
Also, those who qualify for the voucher system at 150 percent of the reduced-price school lunches can continue to receive the vouchers if their income increases up to 200 percent. The bill increases the amount received for the voucher from $900 to $1,000 each year for two years.
Democrats argued the bill would take millions away from the public education system. State Sen. Karen Tallian, D-Portage, said the state currently funds about 9,000 students, at a cost of about $31 million. By 2014, that could grow to $49 million, and $63 million in 2015 as more students fit the qualifications.
“We are making dramatic expansions to the bill,” Tallian said. “This proposal not only take the caps off the number of vouchers, but expands dramatically the eligibility for the program.”
State Sen. Frank Mrvan Jr., D-Hammond, wanted to see support to help lift up the schools that are struggling, instead of pulling funds away. “It’s scary that year after year we hear about these failing schools,” Mrvan said, “Our responsibility is to work with these schools, and not abandon ship.”
State Sen. Carlin Yoder, R-Middlebury, noted that the ability to choose also helps schools become more competitive, and gives more power to the families.
“We want to get parents involved?” Yoder said. “What better way than to give them the opportunity to choose where they go to school. Lets move beyond the discussion of money, and think about what’s best for our kids.”
The bill will head to conference committee before landing on the governor’s desk.