By Steve Bittenbender | The Center Square contributor
(The Center Square) – Proponents for expanded school choice access in Indiana remain optimistic the General Assembly will make that a reality this year, even if it means lawmakers may need to work overtime.
On Thursday evening, the Indiana Non-Public Education Association and the Institute for Quality Education are hosting an online rally to spur support for an increase in the voucher program House members included in its version of the state’s spending plan.
The voucher initiative, the Indiana Choice Scholarship Program, is one of three school choice programs in the state. Indiana families can also send their children to the more than 120 charter schools operating in the state, or they can participate in a program allowing students to enroll in out-of-district public schools.
The scholarships provide Indiana families with funding to cover private school costs, provided they meet income and eligibility requirements.
Betsy Wiley, the president of the Institute for Quality Education, told The Center Square that about 53,000 students receive vouchers to attend non-public schools. The current guidelines mean about 75% of Hoosier students qualify, but the House budget would expand eligibility to up to 95% of students.
However, the Senate removed that provision from the budget when it unveiled its version last week. On Tuesday, the Senate voted 40-10 to approve its proposal, and now leaders from both chambers will need to hash out their differences to present a plan to Gov. Eric Holcomb.
As lawmakers begin the budget talks, Wiley said school choice advocates will make their presence known to lawmakers, and they will be calling for making it more available and not staying with the status quo.
“Until we have universal school choice in Indiana, our number one priority will be to continue to expand educational options for kids of all ages,” she said.
Besides increasing income thresholds, Wiley said the House plan also eliminated other qualification requirements that would simplify eligibility.
Time is running out, though. The session must adjourn by April 29. Wiley said it’s “a very real possibility” lawmakers will need to come back for a special session to finalize the budget.
“There are a number of issues, a number of significant differences between the House and Senate versions of the budget,” she said. “Some dealing with education, some not, and on totally different issues.”