Rally at statehouse to encourage education reform

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INDIANAPOLIS — Parents and students who want to explore options for their education are encouraged to attend the Ed Reform Rocks Rally Monday at noon at the Statehouse downtown.

“We want to match a student’s needs with the school’s ability. That’s ultimately what school choice is,  get a high-quality education with a school that meets that student’s ability,” said Robert Enlow with the Friedman Foundation for Educational Choice.

The rally will feature keynote speaker and basketball star Jalen Rose who has become an advocate for education reform. Governor Mike Pence is also expected to attend.

“It’s important we empower parents in our communities to understand the options available to them. We have more school choices than we’ve ever had before, which is a really great thing and we want them to understand those options and to access those options,” said Lindsey Brown with School Choice Indiana.

Brown said some of those options include public charter schools, scholarships, or private schools. Another choice is still stirring controversy in Indiana: the school voucher program.

“Nine thousand students are participating in the voucher program this year and we expect that to increase over future years. We hear from parents on a weekly basis who are eager to learn more about the program and sign up,” Brown said.

But not everyone is on board with the program. Teresa Meredith, Vice President of The Indiana State Teachers Association, is a plaintiff on a lawsuit that claims vouchers are unconstitutional because they give tax payer dollars to students who can attend private schools with a religious affiliation.

“We would hope the court would side with the Indiana school children and say we need to be investing in stronger better public schools and making sure they’re the best they can be because they do meet a need by educating the majority of society,” said Meredith.

The Indiana Supreme Court is reviewing the suit and has not given a timeline for a decision.

In the meantime, lawmakers are moving forward with legislation that would expand the current voucher system. House Bill 1003 increases the voucher scholarship cap from $4,500 to $5,000 in the 2013-2014 school year and then up to $5,500 for the 2014- 2015 school year. It would also allow kindergartners to use vouchers, rather than requiring them to start off their education in a traditional public school.

“We’d really like to see parents be able to make that choice from the very beginning of a child’s educational career, it’s a critical time in a child’s development,” Brown said.

The House already passed the bill and it is set to go before the Senate Education and Career Development Committee in the next couple of weeks.

“It just seems a little bit ahead of the game to be expanding the voucher component when we really don’t know what the Supreme Court is going to say about it. It just seems a little bit too presumptuous,” Meredith said.

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