School voucher debate in final stages

This is an archived article and the information in the article may be outdated. Please look at the time stamp on the story to see when it was last updated.

INDIANAPOLIS – With just over a week remaining in the legislative session, state legislators are working out the final details on a proposed expansion of the state’s school voucher program.

The expansion was one of the most hotly debated items on the Senate floor in recent weeks, with opponents upset that more public money would end up paying for students to attend private school.

The bill passed the Senate by just four votes, but is still being reconciled with a more vigorous expansion proposal that passed the House.

“It’s not obviously as large as I had originally proposed or as large as the Governor had proposed,” said State Rep. Robert Behning, the committee chairman. “I obviously would prefer some different language with the bill.

“We certainly feel like the House version of the bill is significantly stronger,” said Lindsey Brown of School Choice Indiana. “It allows more families to access the options they so desperately need.”

The Senate version does expand voucher eligibility to low-income students who have special needs, to students whose siblings have been granted vouchers and to students who live in a district with a school that has been classified as “failing.”

Still, opponents are concerned about the idea of using more public money to pay for private schooling.

“This bill is a solution looking for a problem,” said Indiana State Teachers Association President Nate Schnellenberger. “What that does is drain more and more resources from the public schools.”

“We would advise a slowdown, not an expansion of the program,” said John Barnes with the state superintendent’s office.

“We need to talk about funding children, and funding them in the school that meets their specific needs,” said Brown.

A House-Senate conference committee is still working out all the details and costs. The committee met Thursday afternoon and they’re hoping to have negotiations wrapped up sometime next week.