INDIANAPOLIS (AP) - The Indiana House Education Committee signed off
Thursday on a large expansion of the Republican-backed school voucher
The measure would remove a one-year waiting period students have to spend in
public school before qualifying for a voucher and qualify wealthier families
for the program in certain cases. In some cases, it would allow a family of
four earning up to roughly $128,000 to qualify for a batch of vouchers which
cover 50 percent of the cost of schooling.
The panel voted 9-3 Thursday afternoon to send the measure to the full House
of Representatives. The vote split along party lines just as the issue has
for much of the last two years.
Gov. Mike Pence announced this week he was supporting the bill and it has
the backing of the Republican leadership in the House. But the prospects of
an expanded voucher system passing the Senate this year aren’t clear.
At the heart of the battle is whether state dollars are spent on private or
public schools. In one exchange, emblematic of the innumerable debates which
have taken place between Republicans and Democrats over the last two years,
Rep. Kreg Battles, D-Vincennes, and House Education Chairman Robert Behning,
R-Indianapolis, scrapped over whether raising the amount of each voucher
would become a handout for private schools.
Battles, the top Democrat on the education committee, argued that raising
the cap on each voucher from $4,500 to $6,500 could turn into a giveaway for
private schools that charge any less than the new limit.
“If they’ve established a $4,500 fee, they obviously think they can provide
those services for $4,500,” Battles said. “I think this is just wasteful
spending of taxpayer dollars, in my opinion, to let someone charge us a fee
just because we’re willing to pay it.”
But Behning, the author of the voucher expansion, told Battles he was
ignoring a number of safeguards already in place that prevent any group from
fleecing the state via the voucher program.
“The voucher bill will not allow the institution to charge voucher children
more than they charge non-voucher children,” he said. He added that the 2011
law also limits voucher recipients to receiving 90 percent of what public
school students get from the state.
“At no time does the voucher ever exceed more than 90 percent of the state
general fund support. They’re never getting as much as a traditional public
school or charter school would get. So there are always caps for it.”