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Indiana expands school voucher program
Empty classroom. Credit: Seth Sawyers (CC BY 2.0).
Empty classroom. Credit: Seth Sawyers (CC BY 2.0).
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.- Six weeks after the Indiana Supreme Court upheld the state’s voucher program, Gov. Mike Pence has signed into law a bill that makes more children eligible for vouchers.

“Our Hoosier students deserve every opportunity to be successful. That includes having the choice to attend the school that works best for them,” Gov. Pence said May 9 at a signing ceremony at Calvary Christian school in Indianapolis.

He said the legislation would give more educational options to the state’s students.

The present program allows a family of four with an annual household income of $64,000 to receive vouchers up to $4,500 per child. Unlike programs in some other states, it does not limit vouchers to low-income students in failing schools.

The new bill expands eligibility requirements for vouchers. More children will be eligible without having to spend at least a year in public schools. Siblings of current voucher students, students with special needs, and children living in the attendance district of a public school that received a failing grade in state performance evaluations will also be eligible, the Associated Press reports.

The Indiana Catholic Conference said in a legislative roundup that current Catholic school families who meet income requirements are eligible for a tax credit scholarship through a scholarship granting organization.

The two-year-old program currently provides vouchers to 9,100 students. The U.S. Census estimated there were over 1.1 million school-age children in Indiana in 2011.

Opponents of vouchers object that aid to religious schools is unconstitutional and that vouchers draw funds away from public schools.

In response to a legal challenge, the Indiana Supreme Court unanimously upheld the voucher program on March 26.

The court said that because parents, not the state, paid the tuition to religious schools the voucher program is constitutional, CNN reports.

Chief Justice Brent Dickson said the public funds “directly benefit lower-income families with children” and do not directly benefit religious schools.

Alliance Defending Freedom senior counsel Gregory S. Baylor, whose organization argued for the constitutionality of the program, defended it on the grounds that “parents should be able to choose what’s best for their own children.”

“The ultimate winners in the Indiana Supreme Court’s decision are Indiana families who want to provide the best education for their children, whether it is public or private,” Baylor said March 26.

Correction on May 14, 2013 at 9:49 a.m. MST: Article incorrectly stated that the U.S. Census estimated the number of school-age children in Indiana at about 160,000 in 2011. The correct number was 1.1 million school-age children in 2011.

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