Indian Gov. Mitch Daniels Thursday signed into law the nation’s largest school voucher program. According to Daniels’ office, the new law has the broadest eligibility of any in the nation.
In addition to creating a school voucher program for low- and middle-income families, the bill also doubles the preexisting cap on the scholarship tax-credit program and creates a tax deduction for any family that pays out of pocket for educational expenses relating to private or home schools.
The Indiana program is open to families earning 150% of the income required to qualify for the federal free lunch program and is capped at 7,500 students for the first year and 15,000 for the second year. The value of the voucher is capped at $4,500 for students in grades 1 through 8.
New Jersey’s voucher bill, dubbed the Opportunity Scholarship Act, was released in February by the Assembly Commerce Committee, would offer scholarships to 40,000 low-income public school students in 13 districts statewide. The scholarship would allow the student to attend a private or religious school. High school students would be eligible for up to $11,000 per year in tuition money while elementary schools could get as much as $8,000.
The program would be funded by business through a series of tax credits and is expected to cost the state as much as $800 million by the end of its 5th year of operation.
But Democrats now say the bill is too ambitious and have demanded it be scaled back to include far fewer than the 13 proposed districts.
The debate over vouchers prompted Gov. Chris Christie to accuse opponents of being controlled by special interests including the state’s largest teachers union, which also opposes the bill.
Some studies show that students who participate in voucher programs don’t perform significantly better than other students, but Christie and others in the education community insist that vouchers are necessary to save low-income students who are failing behind due to ineffective schools.