INDIANAPOLIS — Hundreds of people gathered at the Indiana Statehouse Tuesday to rally against a bill that would expand the state’s private-school voucher program, already the largest in the nation.
Chanting “no more vouchers” and carrying signs with such messages as “Don’t use my tax money to teach religion,” opponents of the legislation said growing the voucher program would siphon away millions of dollars from traditional public schools still hurting from past budget cuts.
Indiana PTA president Sharon Wise called the legislation, supported by Republican Gov. Mike Pence, “a massive overstep.”
A Senate committee was scheduled to hear the bill on Wednesday; the House has already passed a version of the legislation that could significantly expand the number of private and religious school students eligible for the state-paid vouchers.
A roar of approval from the crowd went up when Vigo County Schools Superintendent Danny Tanoos said lawmakers need to be reminded of last November’s election, when voucher-opponent and school teacher Glenda Ritz beat Republican incumbent Tony Bennett, a voucher supporter, in the race for state schools superintendent.
“Was the message not clear when we sent Tony Bennett packing?” Tanoos said. “Was it not clear when a great teacher, and not a politician, beat him by 100,000 votes?”
The rally took place in the large atrium of the Indiana Statehouse as legislators, meeting in session a floor above, could hear the crowd chanting and applauding the rally’s speakers. It was organized by the Indiana Coalition for Public Education, whose members helped launch a social media campaign credited for Ritz’s surprise victory.
Tuesday’s rally was large and loud but it paled in comparison to a Statehouse rally held last week by voucher supporters, who bussed in children from private and parochial schools that accept the state vouchers as tuition payments.