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Indiana Voucher Program Draws Applicants, Despite Legal Uncertainty

An ambitious new voucher program in Indiana, which offers money for private school costs to middle income families, appears to be drawing strong interest from parents, despite facing an ongoing legal test.

So far, more than 2,800 students have been accepted to the voucher program, which was approved by Indiana's Republican-led legislature this year and signed into law by Gov. Mitch Daniels.

This was a particularly busy legislative season for voucher programs, as GOP lawmakers and governors pushed hard to expand private school choice. Indiana's approach stands out, however, because it took the highly unusual step of providing money for private school tuition to middle-income applicants, unlike most voucher programs, which target disadvantaged students and those with special needs.

Yet backers of the Indiana program need to clear a major hurdle before it can take hold. It's being challenged by a group of teachers and religious leaders, with the support of the Indiana State Teachers Association, who contend it violates the state's constitution (a common legal objection to voucher programs).

On Monday, supporters of the program scored an early victory in that fight, when a judge denied a request by the plaintiffs in the case for a preliminary injunction to halt the program. The decision reportedly allows the program to continue while the legal challenge works its way through the courts.

Given that the Indiana program casts a wide net, what kinds of families are signing up for it?

So far, the vast majority of applicants, 83 percent, have been lower-income families, as measured by eligibility for free or reduced-price lunches, rather than middle-income households, said Alex Damron, a spokesman for the state department of education, in an e-mail. The state has been accepting applications for about 40 days, he noted.

We should know more about the fate of the Indiana voucher program soon.

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