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Fort Wayne-area public school supporters to rally against vouchers

Tuesday, March 19, 2013 - 12:01 am

Several Fort Wayne-area public school supporters will go to the Statehouse on Tuesday to rally against a proposed expansion of Indiana's private-school voucher program.

The Indiana Senate is set to consider a measure that would open the voucher program up to more students and raise the maximum amount of some vouchers, which opponents say would divert more than $20 million that otherwise would help fund public schools.

“We realize vouchers are already a done deal, but the expansion of vouchers is what we're concerned about because of how much money it drains from public schools,” said Phyllis Bush, co-founder of Northeast Indiana Friends of Public Education.

Bush, who taught at South Side High School for 24 years, said she is one of perhaps 20 northeast Indiana public school advocates who will attend the 2:30 p.m. rally and meet with area lawmakers.

The proposed expansion would allow kindergarteners and some other students to immediately qualify for the vouchers without first attending public school for at least a year, as the program currently requires. Budget writers deleted a provision last month that would have made all private school students immediately eligible.

But the House Republican budget also increases annual funding for the vouchers from about $37 million to $63 million – an increase that would shift more tax dollars away from public education, opponents say.

This year, 9,135 students qualified for vouchers, an increase from 3,911 in 2012, according to a fiscal impact statement produced by the Legislative Services Agency, the General Assembly's nonpartisan research arm.

For students in grades 1-8, the proposed expansion would increase the maximum voucher amount from $4,500 to $5,000 in 2014 and $5,500 in 2015, according to the fiscal impact statement.

Supporters of the voucher program say the scholarships provide a choice for parents who otherwise could not afford to send their children to private school. As many as 2,000 supporters packed a Statehouse corridor earlier this month to rally for an expansion of the program.

Local public school supporters expected to speak at Tuesday's anti-voucher rally include Fort Wayne Community Schools board member Julie Hollingsworth, according to a news release from the Indiana Coalition for Public Education, which organized the event.

Hollingsworth did not immediately return a phone call seeking comment Monday afternoon.

Bush said Tuesday's rally may not draw as large a crowd as the pro-voucher event this month, but local public school advocates are more interested in speaking with area lawmakers such as Sen. David Long, R-Fort Wayne; Sen. Tom Wyss, R-Fort Wayne; and Sen. Dennis Kruse, R-Auburn.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.