Critics fear threats to the separation of church and state.
Indiana’s Republican leadership 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 kids to private schools.
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. And within three years, there would be no limit on the number of children who could enroll.
“The goal is to make sure as many kids as possible get choice,” said Robert Enlow, president of the Foundation for Educational Choice, an Indianapolis-based advocacy group pushing for school vouchers.
Students receiving vouchers make up less than one percent of school enrollment nationwide, but vouchers have been one of the top priorities among conservatives. Indiana’s Republican-controlled Legislature hopes to deliver soon on its long-sought overhaul of public education now that Democrats who fled the state have returned.
Democrats in the House stayed in Illinois for five weeks to deprive the chamber of a quorum because they did not have enough votes to stop the voucher proposal and others they oppose. They came back Monday, claiming victory after winning some concessions from the GOP on vouchers and other legislation.
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The vouchers are government-issued certificates that can be applied to private tuition, essentially allowing parents to use some of the tax dollars that would normally be sent to public schools at other institutions.
The vouchers do not carry any additional expense for the state because they mainly transfer money between schools. But public-school advocates and many Democrats have long opposed large-scale voucher programs, saying they could siphon tax money from local districts, potentially leading to a steep decline in the quality of education.
“It’s a national agenda,” said Senate Minority Leader Vi Simpson, a Democrat from Bloomington. “And I think Indiana is the victim of it.”