So far, Indiana’s voucher program has provided private school scholarships only to families meeting certain income requirements. In May, Gov. Mike Pence (R) signed a measure expanding the program to children zoned into failing public schools and special-needs students, regardless of family income.
State Sen. Carlin Yoder (R-Middlebury), who sponsored the proposal, says under the new policy, siblings of current scholarship students would also be automatically eligible.
“This bill would not require siblings of current Choice Scholarship participants to attend a public school for one year to be eligible for the scholarship program,” Yoder notes. “This step is important because it can often be difficult for parents to have children in two different school systems, with two different schedules. For me, this bill is about keeping families together and allowing them the opportunity to choose the school that best fits their needs.”
Indiana first approved statewide vouchers in 2011, with gradually increasing caps on participation that end this fall. Two-thirds of the state’s students will soon be eligible. In 2012-2013, more than 9,000 Indiana students are receiving vouchers, and nearly 300 schools are participating.
Meeting Individual Needs
Single mom Ronna Papesh says a voucher has made it possible for her daughter to attend a school that meets her needs.
Papesh’s daughter was diagnosed with dyslexia in first grade.
“Any time there was any writing involved,” she recollects, “[my daughter] would start misbehaving. She never did before, and that clued me in that there was something that wasn’t working for her there.”
For second grade, Papesh transferred her daughter to a private school, paying the tuition out-of-pocket, “along with my state taxes and everything else, and it just got to be too much to continue. I was just so thankful for the voucher system so that she could return to [the private] school. She is thriving there.”
Papesh says the school choice program “empowers families” by allowing them to “find a solution and a way for their child to get an effective education.” She believes the voucher system is most valuable for children like her daughter, with special needs.
“The public school system may not be meeting [every child’s] needs,” she said. “We must acknowledge that what is effective for some may not be effective for all.”
‘Nation’s Leading’ Vouchers
For children like Papesh’s, Indiana’s voucher program has been “very successful,” and expanding it “will only make the nation’s leading student voucher program better,” said state Rep. Todd Huston (R-Fishers).
House Bill 1003 would also attach special education funds to the student’s voucher if the child has been designated special-needs. That could increase the voucher by up to $8,350 for students with severe disabilities.
“I feel passionately that education is for everyone, but it’s no good if it’s not going to be effective for the individual,” Papesh said. “I challenge the legislators and educators to continue finding ways to match each student with an effective educational methodology.”
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