Bill that would shift Indiana voucher oversight advances

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Indiana's new Democratic state schools superintendent would no longer oversee the private school voucher program that she has opposed under a proposal approved Tuesday by a Republican-controlled legislative committee.

The House Education Committee voted 7-4 along party lines to endorse the bill that would move the handling of applications for the vouchers and distribution of the money to the state's Office of Management and Budget, which reports to Republican Gov. Mike Pence.

The vote sparked quick criticism from Democrats, who accused Republicans of playing politics with schools superintendent Glenda Ritz. The GOP controls the General Assembly, the governor's office and all other elected executive offices.

"We have one lone Democrat serving in this entire Statehouse and it just happens to be Superintendent Glenda Ritz," said Democratic Rep. Shelli VanDenburgh of Crown Point, who charged the measure challenged Ritz's integrity and capabilities. "This is very political."

The proposal was authored by committee Chairman Robert Behning, R-Indianapolis, who introduced the bill by citing Ritz's involvement in a lawsuit challenging the constitutionality of the voucher program before her election last fall.

"She does not believe public dollars should go to private schools," said Behning, a leading sponsor of the state voucher law adopted in 2011. "She's said that many times, pre-election and postelection."

Committee Democrats and a top aide to Ritz said she hasn't done anything to interfere with the voucher program since she took office Jan. 14.

"We believe that it is an unnecessary taking away of a power of the superintendent at a time when she has not even had the chance, really, to settle into her job," said John Barnes, Ritz's legislative liaison.

Ritz, a former suburban Indianapolis school librarian, won election last year with a grass-roots campaign fueled by teacher anger over education changes Bennett pushed.

She was a plaintiff in a lawsuit seeking to overturn the voucher program but withdrew after she won election. The state Supreme Court heard arguments in that case in late November but hasn't yet ruled.

Behning also questioned why the Department of Education hadn't opened the voucher application period for parents in February as former Republican superintendent Tony Bennett had done.

Leaders of some private schools told the committee that Department of Education's decision to accept voucher applications in February last year helped parents make early decisions on whether to enroll their children.

Holy Cross Central School Principal Ruth Tinsley said about 90 of 210 students received vouchers to attend the Catholic school near downtown Indianapolis.

"Our families will have to wait and are concerned about making that decision now because without the vouchers they would not be able to attend the school," Tinsley said.

Barnes attributed delays to the recent transition in leadership and said the agency hoped to begin accepting voucher applications soon.

Senate education committee Chairman Dennis Kruse, R-Auburn, said Tuesday he would consider holding a hearing on the voucher oversight proposal if it clears the House. He had previously declined to take action on any Senate bills that would shift responsibilities away from Ritz.

Kruse said he hasn't heard any complaints about how the Education Department is handling the voucher program.

"I think the voucher law should be fully implemented by the Department of Education and they should not stall or hold it up," Kruse said. "If they are stalling, I would not like that."

The state is paying some $37 million to provide voucher to about 9,100 students this school year. The House Republican budget proposal forecasts spending for the voucher program will grow over the next two years to $63 million annually with 15,000 students.

Behning, the House education chairman, said he had questioned whether the Education Department was the proper agency to oversee the voucher program when it was adopted two years ago and wasn't sure the Office of Management and Budget would end up handling the process.

"I really would rather create an independent group and create a structure that may have more independence," he said. "That's just where it is today."


  • Small government??
    So the solution for those opposed to bloated bureaucracy is to create another agency? Brilliant. It must hurt to twist your body that way.
  • Winners and whiners
    The Repubs won the seats. The Dems, and the teacher union PAC, lost the schools loooooonnnnng ago. So what if there is a dem heading education. Decades of education leadership ineptness have led to this voucher program. Had you liberal socialists REALLY cared about the kids over the past fifty or so years we wouldn't be having this discussion. You don't have any better ideas than to throw more good money after bad (do you even now what that means?). So why do so many want vouchers?
  • Glad I Don't Have Kids
    Once again partisan politics plays a role in dumbing down Indiana education. Idiots.
  • Give the woman a chance to do her job.
    To Indiana Republicans: You lost the State Superintendent of Public Instruction race in November. Tony Bennett was despised and voted out. Time to let it go. A majority of voters would like to give Ritz a chance. Let her do her job and honor the will of the people. But if you did that, then you wouldn't be the Indiana GOP.

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    1. to mention the rest of Molly's experience- she served as Communications Director for the Indianapolis Department of Public Works and also did communications for the state. She's incredibly qualified for this role and has a real love for Indianapolis and Indiana. Best of luck to her!

    2. Shall we not demand the same scrutiny for law schools, med schools, heaven forbid, business schools, etc.? How many law school grads are servers? How many business start ups fail and how many business grads get low paying jobs because there are so few high paying positions available? Why does our legislature continue to demean public schools and give taxpayer dollars to charters and private schools, ($171 million last year), rather than investing in our community schools? We are on a course of disaster regarding our public school attitudes unless we change our thinking in a short time.

    3. I agree with the other reader's comment about the chunky tomato soup. I found myself wanting a breadstick to dip into it. It tasted more like a marinara sauce; I couldn't eat it as a soup. In general, I liked the place... but doubt that I'll frequent it once the novelty wears off.

    4. The Indiana toll road used to have some of the cleanest bathrooms you could find on the road. After the lease they went downhill quickly. While not the grossest you'll see, they hover a bit below average. Am not sure if this is indicative of the entire deal or merely a portion of it. But the goals of anyone taking over the lease will always be at odds. The fewer repairs they make, the more money they earn since they have a virtual monopoly on travel from Cleveland to Chicago. So they only comply to satisfy the rules. It's hard to hand public works over to private enterprise. The incentives are misaligned. In true competition, you'd have multiple roads, each build by different companies motivated to make theirs more attractive. Working to attract customers is very different than working to maximize profit on people who have no choice but to choose your road. Of course, we all know two roads would be even more ridiculous.

    5. The State is in a perfect position. The consortium overpaid for leasing the toll road. Good for the State. The money they paid is being used across the State to upgrade roads and bridges and employ people at at time most of the country is scrambling to fund basic repairs. Good for the State. Indiana taxpayers are no longer subsidizing the toll roads to the tune of millions a year as we had for the last 20 years because the legislature did not have the guts to raise tolls. Good for the State. If the consortium fails, they either find another operator, acceptable to the State, to buy them out or the road gets turned back over to the State and we keep the Billions. Good for the State. Pat Bauer is no longer the Majority or Minority Leader of the House. Good for the State. Anyway you look at this, the State received billions of dollars for an assett the taxpayers were subsidizing, the State does not have to pay to maintain the road for 70 years. I am having trouble seeing the downside.