Indiana “School Choice” Move Hailed by Agudath Israel


indiana_senate_visit1Indiana’s budget for the coming fiscal year, signed yesterday by Governor Mitch Daniels, includes a scholarship tax credit program to benefit needy schoolchildren, no matter what type of school they wish to attend, public or private, including religious schools. The special session budget bill was passed earlier in the day by the Indiana General Assembly – making it the first “school choice” bill of its kind in Indiana’s history to become law. The $2.5 million Indiana School Scholarship Tax Credit program provides a 50% state tax credit for contributions to qualified scholarship programs serving lower-income families. Children in kindergarten through 12th grade will be able to apply for scholarships to help attend the school – public or private – of their choice. Although students currently attending private schools will generally not be able to take advantage of the scholarships, students entering kindergarten will be eligible for it.

“The Indiana legislature was wise to recognize the need, especially during these difficult economic times, to encourage philanthropic giving for student scholarships,” said Rabbi David Zwiebel, Agudath Israel of America’s executive vice president, from his office in New York.

Rabbi A.D. Motzen, Agudath Israel’s Ohio regional director, whose office serves Indiana, was also gratified by the program’s approval and inclusion in the budget. And he gave credit to community activists in Indianapolis and South Bend. “This could not have come about,” he said, “without the help of community leaders like the Lerman family of South Bend, who have been actively engaged in this effort for several years.”

Rabbi Motzen offered praise, too, for Indiana’s Speaker of the House, Pat Bauer (D-South Bend), who, he said “was very gracious to representatives of Agudath Israel, and played a key role in helping us navigate the workings of the State House.”

The victory is the culmination of a multi-year effort that involved the Governor, many legislators, parents, and school choice advocates like Agudath Israel. The program included in the budget was approved by the Indiana Senate earlier this year as Senate Bill 528 (Yoder) and enjoyed bipartisan support in the House as well. Rabbi Motzen travelled from his office in Cincinnati to Indianapolis several times over recent months to advocate for the bill, and was joined at times by Agudath Israel’s national director of government affairs, Rabbi Yehiel Kalish, as well as by an assortment of Jewish community leaders. The delegations met with more than a dozen state legislators including the House and Senate leaders.

Rabbi Kalish applauded the passing of the bill and the group effort that helped lead to it. “To our partners in this effort – the Friedman Foundation for Educational Choice, the Indiana Catholic Conference, School Choice Indiana, the Indiana Non-Public Education Association, and the many parents across the state who led the grassroots efforts to make this dream a reality,” he said, “our deep thanks for your vision and your work.”

Similar programs in states such as Arizona, Florida, Georgia, Pennsylvania, and Rhode Island have provided millions of scholarship dollars for the families of students attending Jewish day schools.

Says Rabbi Motzen, “Agudath Israel looks forward to continuing to play an active role in the rule-making process, and in assisting qualifying members of the Jewish communities of South Bend and Indianapolis to benefit from this important new program.”

{Elisha Newscenter}