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Voucher Bill Gets Nod From Ill. Senate

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The Illinois Senate passed a controversial voucher proposal last week that would allow parents in Chicago to use state money to offset the cost of tuition at private or parochial schools.

The bill originated in the Senate and passed last week on a 31-to-23 vote after a slight delay in its progress last month that had caused some to wonder if it had lost momentum. (See Education Week, March 1, 1995.)

While the vote was seen as a show of strength by the legislature's new Republican majority, it was quickly criticized by many Illinois officials, including top Chicago school administrators.

"It does nothing to address the classroom experiences and academic achievement of the 409,000 students in our schools," Argie K. Johnson, the district's superintendent, said in a statement. "In fact, it further deprives our students of a sound educational experience."

The bill would allow 2,000 low-income Chicago children to attend schools outside the public system on grants of $2,500 each. Gov. Jim Edgar, a Republican, has said he supports the experiment. Lawmakers in the House, however, have not proposed a companion bill. A House education committee aide said last week that Republican leaders were not sure when they will take up the issue.

Vouchers in Indiana?

In Pennsylvania last week, meanwhile, Gov. Tom Ridge announced a proposal to put a statewide voucher system in place within three years. (See related story.)

And in Indiana, the Senate passed a bill last week that would allow students to use state aid for summer school or other mandatory remediation programs to attend private or parochial schools.

The bill was approved on a 27-to-22 vote and will move to the House. Republicans control both chambers of the legislature. Gov. Evan Bayh, a Democrat, has taken no position on the bill.

Opponents of both the Illinois and Indiana bills argue they would take away funding from the public schools at a time when money is tight, particularly in the Chicago district. Critics also promise legal challenges if the plans pass, arguing that they violate the constitutional separation of church and state.

In Arizona, voucher bills are not faring so well. The Republican-majority Senate has killed two voucher measures, and a third bill is still alive in the G.O.P.-controlled House.

Political observers in Arizona said that while the climate for the bills does not look good at the moment, the zeal of the legislation's supporters almost promises that at least one bill will be attached to other legislation later in the session.

In Wisconsin, a voucher bill continues to plod through the legislature. Backed by Republican Gov. Tommy G. Thompson, the bill would expand the Milwaukee voucher law to include religious schools.(See Education Week, Jan. 25, 1995.)

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