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Voucher bill delayed again

INDIANAPOLIS – A move to expand the state's voucher program was postponed for the second consecutive week Wednesday.

Sen. Carlin Yoder, R-Middlebury, wants to allow siblings of voucher students to also receive vouchers without first having to attend public school. They would still have to meet income eligibility guidelines.

Senate Bill 184 is the first attempt at expanding the program since lawmakers passed it two years ago. But Yoder chose not to call the bill for a vote in the Senate Education Committee on Wednesday.

Gov. Mike Pence is pushing an even larger expansion – eliminating the public school requirement completely. This would allow all current private school students whose family income meets requirements to receive a state-paid voucher.

Yoder said he is confident he has the votes even though the committee's four Democrats aren't on board. Neither is Sen. Luke Kenley, R-Noblesville, who had a heated exchange with Yoder about his bill several weeks ago.

"I am waiting to see what happens in the House," he said. "I am very aware that Senator Kenley is head of Appropriations and the bill would have to go there."

The Senate Education Committee did approve two other bills Wednesday – one opening up the process for school districts to sell unused buildings and one requiring schools to teach cursive writing.

Senate Bill 135 passed unanimously and now moves to the full Senate. It would cut in half the amount of time that schools must hold onto vacant buildings in case charter schools want to buy or lease them for $1.

The law in question resulted in two lawsuits in Allen County in which a judge recently ruled in favor of the public school districts' permission to sell the buildings.

Under the new bill, the timeline drops to 24 months. If a public school district gets an offer during that time frame, it must send notice to the Indiana Department of Education, which starts a 30-day period waiver period in which a charter school sponsor or charter association can submit a qualified objection.

Such an objection must include the name of the charter school that is interested in leasing or purchasing the vacant or unused school building and that the charter intends to begin providing classroom instruction within a year.

If there is no objection, the school can sell the building.

The committee made some technical corrections to the cursive bill before it passed 7-4 along party lines.

The measure requires schools to teach cursive writing. State education officials made it optional two years ago, though most schools continue to teach it.

Yoder said he is not sure the legislature should weigh in on school curriculum decisions but that he would support the bill to help his colleague move it out of committee.

Sen. Jim Banks, R-Columbia City, joked that he was going to vote 'no' until he realized it was National Handwriting Day. He supported Senate Bill 120, which now moves to the full Senate.