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Indiana Voucher Bill Close to Becoming Law?

A measure to create a new school voucher system in Indiana, notable because it would make money for private schools available to middle-class families, has cleared an important legislative hurdle.

Indiana's state Senate on Thursday approved the Republican-sponsored measure by a 28-22 vote, and it is expected to go back to the House of Representatives or to a conference committee for consideration this coming week. The GOP controls both legislative chambers in the state.

By any measure, the proposal, which is supported by Republican Gov. Mitch Daniels, represents one of the most ambitious voucher efforts in the country. To date, state voucher programs tend to be targeted at low-income families or specific populations, such as special-needs students.

Not so in Indiana. The bill, as written, would allow families to receive vouchers if they have incomes up to 150 percent of the standard for free or reduced price lunches. For a family of four, that income limit would be about $62,000, legislative staff told me. Poorer families would be eligible for more money, while those at or near the upper threshold would receive less. If approved, the number of scholarships would be limited to 7,500 in the first year, 15,000 in the second year and unlimited thereafter, state Sen. Dennis Kruse, a supporter of the bill, explained.

"A family of four can use the assistance," Sen. Kruse told me. "You've got a mortgage payment, and a car payment," said the senator, who noted that state aid "could put them over the hump and allow them to sent their kid to a private school."

The measure is one of at least 51 proposals in 35 states to establish some kind of public funding for private educational services to have been introduced this year, by one count I received. Those bills also include plans to establish tax credits for corporations that support private school scholarships, and education savings accounts, which tend to offer money to cover a range of private school costs.

Expect more voucher activity in the states in the week ahead, as many legislative sessions come into the home stretch.

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