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The summer of 2011 illuminated a reality that Indiana policymakers have come to appreciate more and more over the past 1.5 years: There is (and was) a latent demand for school choice among Hoosier parents. As the statistics bear out, parents relished the opportunity to take their rightful place as their children’s primary educators and enroll them in a school that best fit their learning needs.
Even with suboptimal circumstances, the response to Indiana’s choice legislation has been tremendous. Although Indiana passed its statewide voucher bill in the spring of 2011, details of how the program would operate remained murky for months. In fact, the rules and regulations for the bill were not released until approximately six weeks before the start of the school year – a time long past when most parents make up their minds regarding which schools their children will attend. Despite the short notice, more than 3,900 students were enrolled in the school of their parents’ choosing using an Indiana Choice Scholarship. (About 2/3 of these students were enrolled in Catholic schools.) This high demand among parents to direct their children’s education was even more evident during the second year, as the number of students participating in the voucher program more than doubled. (About 3/5 of these students enrolled in Catholic schools.)
The voucher bill passed in 2011 was unquestionably a good start, but the legislation was certainly not without areas for improvement. Given that Indiana was the first state to institute a program of this magnitude, it is certainly understandable that some compromises needed to be made along the way. Nevertheless, with the success of the program in its first year and a half, legislators are now attempting to grow the program with HB1003.
If enacted, HB 1003 would expand the Indiana vouchers program to more families in the coming school years. Although amendments have been made to the original bill, HB 1003 would still empower more Hoosier parents with greater influence over their children’s education. Expansions to the current voucher law include granting eligibility to the following groups of students:
- Kindergarten students
- Siblings of students who previously received a voucher or SGO scholarship
- Foster children with family income below 200% of the Free or Reduced Lunch
- Students with special needs with family income below 200% of the Free or Reduced Lunch
- Children of parents who are in the military or an honorably discharged veteran with family income under 200% of free and reduced lunch
Additionally, the maximum amount of a voucher for students enrolled in grades 1-8 would increase from $4,500 to $5,000 for the 2013-2014 school year and $5,500 for the 2014-2015 school year.
While the ultimate fate of HB 1003 is still undetermined, such efforts are a hopeful sign for a future in which all Hoosier families will have the resources to enroll their children in the schools the parents deem best for them.