Behning: Every student deserves equal opportunity to succeed

Posted by: Samantha Holifield  | Wednesday, January 27, 2021 9:58 am

A great education sets young Hoosiers on a successful path in life. From developing social skills to problem solving, school is where kids learn the most when outside of the home. But students all learn differently. While some may excel in a traditional classroom, others will thrive in a virtual learning environment. The pandemic highlighted the need for flexible schooling options to accommodate a wide variety of academic, medical and social needs. In Indiana, we believe families should have the freedom and opportunity to send their child to a school that best meets all of those needs.

Across the state, there are several types of schools students can attend. Approximately 92 percent of students attend either their neighborhood traditional public school or one outside their assigned school district. Other families may choose to attend a public charter school or a nonpublic school because they offer specialized learning options and flexibilities not always available in traditional public schools. 

In order to ensure every student has access to high-quality learning options, our state ensures funding follows the child to the school they attend. This means schools receive funding for the students they educate. Without this policy, schools with less students could receive more funding than schools who serve a larger population. This practice earned Indiana fourth place in the nation for most equitable distribution of K-12 education funds across school districts in 2018 from Education Week.

While our state already has a strong school choice program, some students still don't have effective education options, which is why I authored legislation this year to empower more Hoosiers to exercise school choice.

Currently, students who attend accredited nonpublic schools can apply for a choice scholarship and be eligible to receive up to 90 percent of their tuition funding. However, depending on their family's income, they could receive as low as 50 percent. A family of four with an income of less than $70,000 could be shut out of educational opportunities. For example, a bus driver married to an auto mechanic, who each make under $35,000, couldn't qualify for a scholarship for their child.  My proposal would eliminate these financial barriers by providing 90 percent tuition support for every qualifying family and increasing the income threshold.

My bill would also establish the Indiana Education Savings Account Program, which would provide eligible families funding to directly pay for tuition or education-related services from Indiana schools. Under current law, education funding and payments are paid to schools by the state on behalf of families. Students with a disability or require special education, kids whose parent serves on active duty in the military or is a veteran, and children in foster care would be eligible for this program.

This legislation will be considered in the House Education Committee in the coming weeks. Ensuring students can learn in an environment that best meets their needs is an issue I am incredibly passionate about because a good education opens doors to opportunities. Learn more about this bill and others at iga.in.gov. 

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State Rep. Bob Behning (R-Indianapolis) represents House District 91,
which includes portions of Hendricks and Marion counties.

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