April 22, 2005

Indiana Houes of Representatives
fails to pass school choice bill

By Brigid Curtis Ayer

A measure to provide non-public school scholarships and education tax credits for Hoosier families failed in the Indiana House of Repre­senta­tives earlier this month, but the Indiana Catholic Conference (ICC) and the Indiana Non-Public Schools Association (INPEA) will continue the fight in the months ahead.

Senate Bill 281, which was defeated by a narrow margin (45-54) in the House on April 11, would have provided tax credits to low- and middle-income Hoosier families who wanted to send their children to a non-public school of their choice.

Because of the narrow margin, Glenn Tebbe, ICC executive director said, “With just a few more ‘yes’ votes, school choice in Indiana could have become a reality during this session. We need the Catholic community to continue writing letters, making calls or even visiting their state elected representatives to let them know how important the non-public school choice issue is to families and children in Indiana.”

The tax credit aspect of Senate Bill 281 cannot come back this session, but Tebbe said that non-public school choice will be a priority issue for the Indiana Catholic Conference next year during the 2006 Indiana General Assembly and that a grassroots effort is needed for a school choice measure to pass in the future.

Tebbe, who led the non-public school choice effort along with INPEA executive director Derek Redelman, said, “The concept behind the original school choice measure, House Bill 1009, which was amended into Senate Bill 281, was to give a scholarship for those families least able to pay for a non-public school education and to provide education tax credits for all Hoosier families giving a preferential option for the poor.

“Senate Bill 281 not only gave families least able to afford non-public education the largest tax credit, but gave them the first opportunity to receive the credits. Additional tax credits would be available to all Hoosier families and phased in by income levels,” Tebbe said.

Under Senate Bill 281, a $1,000 tax credit per student, up to $2,000 per family would have been available immediately for the poorest families in Indiana, those earning less than $33,000 a year for a family of four. The tax credits would have increased by $500 every two years, up to $3,000 per student and up to $6,000 per family. For middle-income families earning between $33,000 and $66,000 per year, there would have been a two-year delay. The tax credits would have begun at $500 per student, up to $1,000 per family. The amount would have increased by $500 every two years, up to $2,000 per student and up to $4,000 per family.

“The bill’s failure was due in part because some have a philosophical difference with the idea of school choice, fearing that money going toward non-public education takes away dollars from public education,” Tebbe said.

“Also, the bill failed because of the state’s fiscal problem, not because Senate Bill 281 actually cost the state anything, because it didn’t. We worked out the fiscal aspect of the tax credit ahead of time in such a way that the initial savings in the bill would pay for tax credits in future years,” Tebbe added. “It failed because public school officials were upset that public schools weren’t receiving sufficient funds from the state. Some legislators were sympathetic. And the teachers’ lobbying group, the Indiana State Teachers Association, is very strong and influential in Indiana.”

Tebbe said it’s going to take a grassroots effort to encourage non-public school choice as part of Indiana’s public policy.

“The Catholic Church has been providing education in the interest of the common good of society long before public education was even available in this country. State government can play a crucial role in helping non-public schools thrive, just as it makes public policy to help businesses or industries thrive,” he said. “Non-public school choice is about the common good of society and allowing parents of all income levels, not only the rich, to have educational options for their children.”

Tebbe said people supporting school choice need to encourage their state legislators to endorse it.

For more information about how to contact your legislator, log on to http://www.in.gov/apps/sos/legislator/search/ or http://www.inpea.org/howtocontact.asp

To learn how your legislator voted on Senate Bill 281, go to the ICC website at indianacc.org or contact the Indiana Catholic Conference at 317-236-1455.

(Brigid Curtis Ayer is a correspondent for The Criterion.)

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