Indiana Senate approves school vouchers - Fox 28: South Bend, Elkhart IN News, Weather, Sports

Indiana Senate approves school vouchers

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The Indiana State Senate passed a bill Thursday that would offer controversial publicly funded vouchers to parents who want to send their kids to private schools.

The bill would allow lower and even some middle-class families to get vouchers for up to nearly $5,000 per year.

7,500 vouchers would be available for the upcoming school year, and 15,000 would be available for the 2012-2013 year.

There's been debate over whether vouchers are an appropriate use of public funding, and some fear this bill will hurt public schools.

Governor Mitch Daniels was in Mishawaka  to present a science award today.

And he spoke on the issue.

"The money is for the children, for their education.  If you start with the premise. that the mission of the state is to see that every child gets a great education, then you trust the parents to decide where that will be," Daniels said.

The bill must still be approved by the Indiana House.

Indiana Superintendent of Schools Tony Bennett spoke at Goshen High School this evening.

Reaction was mixed tonight.

At Goshen High School, teachers took the news as a blow.

At the same time, private school leaders were pleased with the Senate's vote.

And parents we talked to were divided on the issue.         

Some parents are dead-set against the vouchers.

"If I want him (my kid) to go to private school, then I have to pay for it.  My tax dollars shouldn't go to that," said Paul Kern, who has 2 children in public schools.

But Selene Myreles, who sends her children a private school, is pleased with the Senate decision.

"It's a great thing.  It's a good help.  We need to learn a little more about it, but yea," Myreles said.

State superintendent Tony Bennett says the public-private argument isn't the important issue.

"It's about quality options.  It's about providing all children, regardless of where they live, regardless of their race, regardless of how much money their parents have, with the ability to pursue an educational opportunity that affords them the chance to be successful in college and careers," Bennett said.

Bennett also says vouchers will force public schools to improve thanks to competition from private schools.

Goshen principal James Kirkton says that's the wrong approach.

"I know that many people think schools are like businesses, but they're not," Kirkton said.

Kirkton thinks that instead of competing, they should be collaborating.

30-year public school teacher Neil Boston agrees, saying that vouchers are inappropriate.

"We need every dollar to develop success in our students.  I really see the voucher as being a conflict of interest between public and private," Boston said.

Over in Mishawaka, Marian High School principal Carl Loesch is ecstatic about the program.

"This should give parents additional choices, that if they find the non-public schools better for their children, they can come here," Loesch said.

There are strong opinions on both sides.  One of the biggest public school fears is that good students will leave for private schools, leaving the schools lacking in funds and struggling to keep up with state standards.

Bennett says: "I believe Indiana public schools can compete and succeed.  And I am saddened when I hear our public school teachers, our public school administrators express fear.  Because in many instances, I feel I have more confidence in them than they do."

Ohio is the only other state that has a statewide voucher program.

We did some research today. 

Tuition and fees at Marian High School comes to about $7,000 for non-parishioners.

The maximum voucher would be worth about $5000.

Mark Myers, the superintendent for the Diocese of Fort Wayne-South Bend, told us today that the diocese will make up that gap for families.

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