The Carmel Clay Schools board of trustees has joined a growing list of school districts across the state in urging state lawmakers not to support a bill that would expand the voucher program and create school savings accounts.
The school board approved a resolution at its March 22 meeting expressing opposition to House Bill 1005, authored by Republican Rep. Bob Behning. The House of Representatives approved the bill, 61-38, in mid-February, which is now being discussed in the Senate’s Committee on Education and Career Development.
If approved, the bill would lead to the creation of education savings accounts to be used for private school tuition, tutoring and other education-related expenses for military families, children in foster homes and special education students. For families that choose the option, the state would divert 90 percent of the basic per-pupil funding from the pooled amount for public schools into the education savings account.
The bill also expands eligibility for Indiana’s Choice Scholarship Program, also known as the voucher program, which provides scholarships to eligible students to offset tuition costs at private schools. Under the proposed change, families of four with a household income of $145,410 or less would be eligible for vouchers. Current financial eligibility is set at no more than 150 percent of the income amount required for an individual to qualify for the federal free or reduced-price lunch program, which, for a family of four, is $72,705.
CCS Supt. Michael Beresford called the bill “disturbing” and said it comes at a time when public schools are already feeling financial pressures.
“If there’s ever a time not to do that, it would be during a pandemic and also in a time where we just heard a report by the governor’s office on several different things we need to get our public school teachers the salaries they deserve and help us catch up with other states,” Beresford said. “It’s extremely poor timing. Taking that money away from public schools and siphoning it off to other programs would make it difficult to give a raise to the teachers.”
Advocates of the bill say it will allow families to have more options in pursuing specific educational needs for their children. Some say it has become even more important during the educational upheaval caused by the COVID-19 pandemic.
Before the 5-0 vote in favor of the resolution, School Board President Layla Spanenberg said many other school boards have adopted similar measures.
“We are hoping, if we do pass this resolution, that not only our representatives and senators understand that we really value public education and we want to see our tax dollars used more effectively for 90 percent of the students in Indiana (who attend public school), we’re hoping it sends a message across the state as well,” she said.
Learn more about the bill at iga.in.gov/legislative/2021/bills/house/1005#digest-heading.