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State Fiscal Leader Questions Benefits Of Voucher Expansion

Senate Appropriates Chair Luke Kenley says the expansion makes it harder for public schools to compete.

cathedral school students

Photo: Elle Moxley/StateImpact Indiana

Students in Cathedral High School in Indianapolis research John F. Kennedy's presidency in Melinda Bundy's ninth grade English class.

The Indiana Senate’s fiscal leader says legislation expanding the state’s school voucher system would approach what he calls a “cataclysmic change” to the program and possibly create questions about its constitutionality.

The school voucher expansion bill would allow families to receive state dollars for their children to attend private school beginning in kindergarten, essentially removing the requirement that students spend at least one year in public school before receiving a voucher.

Senate Appropriations Chair Luke Kenley says that requirement was the condition created in order to pass the bill creating the voucher program two years ago. Kenley says if students do not have to attend public school at all, public schools cannot truly compete for students.

But House Education Committee Chair Bob Behning, the bill’s sponsor, says providing more choice improves quality for all schools.

“The public schools don’t want to lose those children,” he says. “The non-public schools don’t want to lose those children. So everybody is going to be more competitive and try to do more better for children in an effort to meet their needs.”

Kenley, though, says the state does not know if students are actually doing better when they move to private school.

“I wonder if it would make sense for us to give this a rest for a few years, let’s say five years, and then have a study done to see whether or not the use of public funds to send kids to private schools has actually produced a positive educational result,” he says.

Behning says he is not in favor of that approach. The bill could come up for a vote in the Senate Education Committee as early as next week.

Brandon Smith, IPBS

Brandon Smith, IPBS has previously worked as a reporter and anchor for KBIA Radio in Columbia, MO, and at WSPY Radio in Plano, IL as a show host, reporter, producer and anchor. Brandon graduated from the University of Missouri-Columbia with a Bachelor of Journalism in 2010, with minors in political science and history. He was born and raised in Chicago.

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