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Indiana House education panel OKs voucher expansion

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The Indiana House Education Committee signed off Thursday on a large expansion of the Republican-backed school voucher system.

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."

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  1. I'm a CPA who works with a wide range of companies (through my firm K.B.Parrish & Co.); however, we work with quite a few car dealerships, so I'm fairly interested in Fatwin (mentioned in the article). Does anyone have much information on that, or a link to such information? Thanks.

  2. Historically high long-term unemployment, unprecedented labor market slack and the loss of human capital should not be accepted as "the economy at work [and] what is supposed to happen" and is certainly not raising wages in Indiana. See Chicago Fed Reserve: goo.gl/IJ4JhQ Also, here's our research on Work Sharing and our support testimony at yesterday's hearing: goo.gl/NhC9W4

  3. I am always curious why teachers don't believe in accountability. It's the only profession in the world that things they are better than everyone else. It's really a shame.

  4. It's not often in Indiana that people from both major political parties and from both labor and business groups come together to endorse a proposal. I really think this is going to help create a more flexible labor force, which is what businesses claim to need, while also reducing outright layoffs, and mitigating the impact of salary/wage reductions, both of which have been highlighted as important issues affecting Hoosier workers. Like many other public policies, I'm sure that this one will, over time, be tweaked and changed as needed to meet Indiana's needs. But when you have such broad agreement, why not give this a try?

  5. I could not agree more with Ben's statement. Every time I look at my unemployment insurance rate, "irritated" hardly describes my sentiment. We are talking about a surplus of funds, and possibly refunding that, why, so we can say we did it and get a notch in our political belt? This is real money, to real companies, large and small. The impact is felt across the board; in the spending of the company, the hiring (or lack thereof due to higher insurance costs), as well as in the personal spending of the owners of a smaller company.

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