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Indiana private-school voucher bill faces changes

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Boycotting Indiana House Democrats say they'll stay in Illinois until Republicans back off a handful of bills they consider an assault on the middle class — even though some of those sticking points may not have much of a future anyway.

For example, one of the Republican proposals Democrats consider most onerous is a voucher bill that would use taxpayer money to help parents send their children to private school. But House Speaker Brian Bosma, R-Indianapolis, said that bill is likely headed for major changes regardless of the Democrats' ongoing boycott of the House, where Republicans hold a 60-40 majority.

To win solid support for the bill from his own caucus, Bosma said Republicans are considering limiting the number of students who could receive vouchers and may further restrict qualifying income levels so that vouchers are directed to more needy students. Currently the bill includes no cap on the number of students who can participate, and families of four making up to $81,000 a year could receive a scholarship to a private school. That income limit is lower than the original proposal, which would have allowed families of four making more than $100,000 to receive vouchers.

Bosma predicted the voucher bill could pass the House with about 55 votes, but only after amendments are adopted.

"It's going to take some changes," he said.

Nearly 50 amendments have been filed on the voucher bill, most by Democrats, and Bosma said the House would likely adopt some Democratic amendments that make sense. However, adopting amendments — or conducting any House business — requires a quorum, and the Democrats' boycott has prevented that from happening.

House Democrats don't like the voucher bill and want it dropped from the Republican agenda altogether, although they haven't made that an explicit condition of their return from Urbana, Ill., where they have been staying in a hotel since beginning their boycott last Tuesday.

House Minority Leader Patrick Bauer, D-South Bend, said his caucus is "absolutely against vouchers, period." But he didn't rule out a compromise if Republicans would be willing to negotiate.

"That's a tough one," Bauer told reporters Monday by phone from Illinois, saying there is room for compromise.

Bosma has urged Democrats to return and said Monday that he'd talk to Bauer if he came back to Indianapolis. But talking isn't the same as negotiating. Bosma insists that he won't negotiate any items of the agenda outright, and says he won't make any "back room deals" with Bauer to change bills. Bosma said amendments should be dealt with in public on the House floor.

"If they're holding the process hostage, I'm not responding in a positive way to that," Bosma said of Democrats. "I'm just not going to reward the behavior."

Republicans could easily defeat any Democratic amendments, so Bauer said he wants to negotiate with Bosma to get some assurance that changes to "take away some of the pain" of the bills will be accepted before bringing his caucus back to the Statehouse.

"If they would say they'd accept some amendments, it's a whole different story," Bauer said.

The Democrats' boycott has already killed a so-called "right-to-work" bill that would have prohibited union membership from being a condition of employment. Republicans say they won't try to resurrect that proposal. But Bosma said he will not allow the boycott to kill other bills and plans to extend legislative deadlines to keep the other proposals on the House calendar alive as long as necessary.

Democrats, who haven't outlined specifics of changes they want before they'll return, say they simply want Republicans to negotiate.

"The other side has to be willing to talk," said Rep. Scott Pelath, D-Michigan City. "When you begin to talk, then you can begin to identify the specifics that are very important to both sides. But we haven't gotten to that point yet."

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  • How 'bout some credits?
    So, what about those of us who pay taxes for schools but don't have children? You think we should get credits? I do!
  • Can't Wait!
    I am a single parent of a disabled child. I make only $13,500 a year. No matter how much I wanted in the past, to send my child to a private school, it was not an option. There will be many parents of children that will sign up for these vouchers, I already know of a few. My child does not get the education that he so much needs because he is enrolled in a public school. Whenever he displays the very behavior that needs worked on, as written in his IEP, the school sends him home. How can he ever get help with that behavior, if he learns that all he has to do is act out and they will send him home. I am excited and know that the final outcome of these vouchers will make a big difference in not just his life, but the lives of countless other children.
  • Fair is Fair
    I'm exhausted paying for things I never receive. Why is it not fair for me to apply the taxes I pay related to schools to any school I choose private or public? This should be the case regardless of my income. The welfare state mentality in the US will end up sinking our ship.
  • Still treating the symptoms!
    I would love to see our government entities begin to address the real problems and stop settling for treating the symptoms! Is the voucher issue the real problem here or is it our general failure to sustain a healthy, consistent and substantive classroom experience? If the government wants to fund something, how about offsetting the wages of parents so they can be IN the schools at least once a month and a FULL participant in their childs education. How about creating programs that help parents who need it to better understand and value the educational process? I fully appreciate the open marketplace but we have demonstrated over the years that we tend to create barriers to the kind of public education that is a hallmark of our society. Services that are privitized tend to ultimately belong to the priviliged and become less accessible to all persons. Are we satisfied with that?
  • It's OUR Money
    It's not YOUR money. It's OUR money!
    What happens to the tax dollars that singles and childless parents (and parents who kids have finished school) pay?? Perhaps if the GOP were serious about this -- they'd pass a bill mandating that ONLY PARENTS pay for schools!
  • Well said (written)
    No vouchers. You pay your taxes for public school because that is your responsibility as a citizen because a primary reason for our republic's success has been public education for all (this is NOT how it works worldwide). If you don't like the public school you're in, work to fix it. If you don't want to fix it, pay your own money to send your kids to a private school.
  • To Julia
    Amen, Julia! I paid for mine as well with half that income! It's terrible that this could be happening! People need to pay their own ways! As for those who are in Chicago, they should be docked and FIRED!
  • No vouchers!
    No tax dollars should ever be spend to send kids to private schools! I paid for my daughter to go on less than $45,000 a year and they are wanting to give money to those making double that?! That is obscene! If they are making $80-100,000 a year, let them pay for it themselves! I sure did! I had to make serious sacrifices and also paid over $100 a month in taxes for my public school!

    In addition to that, what is this going to do the the waiting lists at private schools? So, deserving kids will be turned away because tax payers are footing the bill for other kids? On top of that, how can we try to keep the "riff raff" out of the private schools if just anyone can go there?? This is a bad idea all the way around. I am opposed to this and will let my lawmakers know it in no uncertain terms. If your schools aren't up to your standards, do something about it! Or move! PAY YOUR OWN WAY PEOPLE!!!!
  • Won't matter
    Let's talk through this using IPS as an example. First, there are viable alternatives with success stories. Magnet schools and Charter schools are readily available for those interested in pursuing a better avenue for their children. Those not pursuing those avenues already are simply not going to take the initiative to go through a voucher process. This is a non-event.

    People who wanted a public option and could move, did. People who couldn't or wouldn't move pushed and got magnet and charters. People who did and said nothing, are going to still do nothing. Vouchers are a hollow solution to a serious problem. Teachers and school are only part of the issue; parents that care is a separate and distinct issue that can not be legislated. Vouchers are likely not the boon that private schools hoped as the bill as proposed excludes those who already could afford the change and made it. Sadly, "afford" is not necessarily the case as there are those who care so much about their children's education that they've made serious sacrifices to pay for private options. This bill is bad because it doesn't help those who care. Those who don't are already lost.
  • Ever Hear Of A Pell Grant?
    All this uproar over using tax dollars to send students to private religious schools is absurd. This has been going on at the college level for DECADES! (Pell Grants from the Federal Government!) Why is this not opposed?? ONE REASON....College Professors ARE NOT in the TEACHERS UNION! All the people opposed to this so called "crossing the line" between church and state are just creating a diversion. The real issue is that the Teachers Union knows this will drain money away from their coffers. And since the Teachers Union is the LARGEST DONOR to the Indiana DEMOCRAT PARTY, should we be surprised that our State Democrat Representatives are in hiding. What a scam..typical union shakedown at work.
  • It's not about the schools
    This never was about draining "much needed" money from public schools. Public schoools in Indiana have been failing to serve us, as taxpayers, and our children, as their clients, for years, regardless of how much money we gave them. This is about the unions. The unions could not care less about either the taxpayers, or the children their members need to keep in their classrooms to guard the status quo -- the intolerable nature of which many are now speaking out against.
  • Wrong Julia
    We're not sending public money to religious schools. We are givign parents back tax dollars and leaving it up to them to choose their children's schools. That's not a violation of the Establishment Clause.

    Also the taxpayers fund scholarships and loans for college age kids and they can use those at the school of their choice, including religious schools.
    • Response to Julia
      Julia,
      While many private schools are affiliated with faiths, that is not universally the case. So my question is are you against a private schools in general or just religious ones? And, even though it is repeating "ItsMyMoney" it is not inherently the government's money. It is first and foremost the parent's money. Only an act of law transforms it into tax money. So essentially this law simply exempts that money from taxation if earmarked for private education.
    • private school
      Midwest..My family of four barely makes $80,000 and it is very hard to send our kids to private school. I know the sacrifice we make for better education and great morals for our kids is well worth it.
    • Who is paying for the boycott
      I can not believe we are okay with these elected officials racking up expenses that will be paid with Tax dollars. I understand their need to protest the legislation but seriously since last Tuesday? Room Chgs, Fodd Expense and I am sure entertainment qualifies too! Get back to work and stop wasting our money.
      How come there isn't more press about the charges they are racking up while "protesting"?
    • Voucher Supporter
      Julia: You don't seem to have your head wrapped around the fact that the government wouldn't be GIVING away money in the form of vouchers. They would be allowing citizens to decide where THEIR money was spent for their kids education rather than having the government shove that decision down our throats. IT'S OUR MONEY!!!! If someone wants to spent THEIR money on a religious school, more power to them. More power to the people! Aside from that, the private sector can do anything better and more efficiently that the government. Shut down all the public schools I say. Better, cost-effective private schools would begin popping up everywhere. The ones that educated students best would get the most students (or command the highest rates) and prosper. Those that did a crappy job would go out of business. That's kind of the American Way, ya know!
      • This from the man who held up everything during his reign?
        Pat Bauer, who single handedly held up much legislation during his "reign of terror" as speaker of the house now wants the other side to negotiate? Elections have consequences, Mr. Bauer. You lost. If the dems won't give in I and I know many others will work to get enough majority in the house for the republicans that the remaining dems can go on vacation at the winter water park in Illinois for the remainder of their terms.
      • Boycott & Vouchers
        Maximum voucher income should be $60,000 for a family of 4. Family of 4 with $80,000 income should have no problem sending 2 children to private school. If they don't manage their need to keep up with the Joneses better, send their children into the real world of public school. Still angry at boycotters vacationing in IL with colleague crooks. Dock their pay and fire those who have not shown up for work and who are not doing their jobs.
      • Vouchers are a bad idea
        Education vouchers are a bad idea all around. Not only do they funnel much-needed funds away from the public schools, they can be used to support a student attending a religious school. Giving taxpayer funds to these schools therefore violates the establishment clause of the First Amendment.

        Beyond that, if someone making $81K per year wants to send their child to a religious school, let them do it with their own money. I make far less than that and managed to send both of my kids to private school using the school's financial aid process and my own funds--plus paid into the public school system that I wasn't even using. I never expected the good people of Indiana to pay for what was a personal choice.

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