Pence signs off on school voucher expansion

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Indiana’s sometimes controversial school voucher program will expand again, after Gov. Mike Pence signed the expansion into law Thursday.

“We’re just very grateful for the support of the General Assembly for taking one more step to give educational opportunities to families who wouldn’t otherwise have them,” said Pence, who signed the bill into law at Calvary Christian School on the city’s south side in front of hundreds of students from seven different private schools around the area.

The voucher expansion was one of the most hotly debated items during this year’s legislative session, with opponents upset that more public money would end up paying for students to attend private and religious schools.

“We’re disappointed there’s been an expansion of that so quickly, and such a large expansion at that,” said Indiana State Teachers’ Association president Nate Schnellenberger. “We feel it takes funds from traditional public schools.”

The new law expands voucher eligibility to low-income students who have special needs and to students who live in a district with a school that has been classified as “failing.” Also, some students can now get vouchers without first having to attend one year of public school.

“That’s really huge,” said Calvary Christian Principal Charles Barcus. “We have 55 voucher students now, about 25 percent of our school, and we see that expanding with this voucher legislation.”

The new law will take effect in time for next school year. Families must meet certain income requirements, which are posted on the Department of Education’s website.