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Panel nixes transportation aid for charter schools

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An Indiana Senate panel eliminated part of a proposal on Wednesday that would have required traditional public schools to help provide transportation to students attending charter schools.

The Republican-controlled Senate Education Committee approved the change, which makes the legislation aimed at expanding charter schools more palatable to traditional public schools. Some traditional school districts said it would have been too expensive to help provide transportation to charter schools, which are public schools free of many state regulations and, often, teacher union contracts.

The committee also made some other changes before approving the bill, such as taking away the ability for mayors of smaller cities to authorize charter schools. Supporters said smaller cities may not have the resources to provide rigorous oversight of charter schools.

"I think all of our goals need to be raising the achievement of students," said Sen. Earline Rogers, D-Gary. "There is a balance that can be struck between charters and traditional public schools. With these amendments what we do is create an atmosphere in which both can accomplish what their missions are."

The goal of the bill — which is part of Republican Gov. Mitch Daniels' sweeping education agenda — is to expand charter schools and give families more education options. The bill would create a state board to authorize more charter schools, and would give authorizing authority to private colleges and universities. Currently only the mayor of Indianapolis and public universities that offer four-year degrees can sponsor charter schools.

The bill would also allow charter schools to buy or lease for $1 a year unused buildings owned by traditional school corporations. And it would increase accountability for charters, providing penalties for chronically underperforming charter schools.

The Education Committee voted 8-2 for the amended bill, which next heads to another Senate committee for consideration.

The changes made Wednesday may complicate the bill's future because any changes would have to win approval from the GOP-led House before becoming law. Democrats are currently boycotting the House, and could put the bill in jeopardy if they continue to do so long term. Charter school supporters are hopeful that that won't happen, however, and House Democrats say the charter school legislation is not one of the main bills they are trying to derail with their boycott.

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