INDIANAPOLIS | With the stroke of a pen Thursday, Gov. Mitch Daniels ushered in a new era for education in Indiana.

At a Statehouse ceremony attended by more than 100 schoolchildren, the Republican governor signed into law House Enrolled Act 1003, permitting state funds be used for vouchers to pay private school tuition, and House Enrolled Act 1002, making it easier to open new charter schools.

"We say today that every child is precious. Every child deserves an equal chance to be all they can be. Regardless of race, regardless of income, every child and every parent deserves an equal chance," Daniels said.

Under the voucher program, a family of four earning less than $41,000 a year is entitled to a $4,500 voucher for a student in grades one through eight and $4,964 for a high school student. A family of four earning between $41,000 and $61,000 can receive up to $2,758 per student in any grade.

To be eligible, a student must have attended at least one year of public school before receiving a private school voucher. The number of available vouchers is capped at 7,500 statewide for the 2012-13 school year and 15,000 the year after.

The charter school legislation makes most Indiana private colleges eligible to sponsor charter schools, increases funding for online virtual charter schools and enables charter schools to take over unused buildings owned by a traditional public school.

State Sen. Ed Charbonneau, R-Valparaiso, was one of three dozen state lawmakers also in attendance Thursday. He said he voted for both new laws because he believes state education money ought to follow the child.

"Once you reach the conclusion that our mission is to educate students and not fund buildings, I think it makes the whole process more understandable," Charbonneau said.

Democrats claim both measures will take funds away from traditional public schools and leave those schools without adequate resources.

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