UPDATE: House Bill 1003 which would allow school vouchers passed the Indiana House Wednesday evening. The measure passed with a 56-42 vote. It now moves on to the Senate.
ORIGINAL STORY: Hundreds of people rallied at the statehouse Wednesday, showing support for legislation to make private school vouchers available to thousands of Indiana families.
"There are lots of good public schools out there," said Indianapolis mother Kari Hunter. "But if you're trapped in one that's not working for your family, then you should be able to choose a private or another public school."
The rally featured remarks from the former chancellor of D.C. Public Schools, Dr. Michelle Rhee, who is now a strong advocate for charter schools. Dr. Rhee's appearance was a show of support for the charter school bill being debated in the Indiana House.
"We have the opportunity in Indiana today for this state to be leading the charge across the rest of the nation," Dr. Rhee said.
The rally comes as the House is expected to vote later Wednesday night on House Bill 1003. It is the hotly-contested bill to use state dollars to pay for private school vouchers for low-to-middle income Indiana families.
House Democrats spent part of Tuesday trying to amend the bill but their efforts were mostly voted down by Republicans. In its current language, HB 1003 would use public money to pay for 7,500 school vouchers in the first year, then 15,000 in the second year. The income cap for families to qualify now stands at $60,000 a year, which has been reduced from its original language.
Supporters of the bill call it a step into the future, giving help to Hoosier families who wouldn't otherwise be able to afford private school. Opponents call it a dangerous step toward more privatization. Rep. Vernon Smith (D-Gary) told Fox59 News it will spell trouble for traditional schools.
"Well I think that we, with all of the legislation that's coming through in this session that we are dismantling public education. Slowly by surely, we're doing it," Smith said.
Rep. Smith also believes HB 1003 creates a conflict with the state constitution by allowing public money to potentially pay for religious schools. He predicts the measure will be challenged in the courts if it becomes law.