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Trimmed Indiana voucher bill moves forward

INDIANAPOLIS – The Senate Education Committee passed a smaller expansion of the state’s voucher program Wednesday after accepting an amendment to reduce the bill’s overall scope.

The panel accepted an amendment from Sen. Luke Kenley, R-Noblesville, who was very critical of the proposed changes at a hearing last week.

The bill also was reassigned to Senate Tax and Fiscal Policy for further fiscal review. Usually bills with a cost go to Senate Appropriations, which Kenley chairs.

“This is a significantly lower cost than the original bill,” he said.

Indiana started its voucher program two years ago and now 9,300 students receive a state-paid voucher, which sends $37 million to private schools. There are income restrictions and children must currently spend at least one year in public school before being eligible.

The Indiana Supreme Court found the program constitutional on Tuesday.

House Bill 1003 included a number of changes – the largest being that incoming kindergarteners would now be immediately eligible for the program without first attending public school.

Kenley said that move would essentially open up the program completely over a 13-year-period and the eventual new cost to the state would be about $200 million a year.

He said his amendment focuses closely on children who live in the attendance area of a failing school. It would allow those kids to receive a voucher if they meet income guidelines without first attending public school.

The amendment also gave more freedom for siblings of a child receiving a voucher to also get a voucher without the public school requirement. Kenley conceded the bill is still an expansion of the voucher program but said “crafting legislation is sometimes the art of compromise.”

Sen. Earline Rogers, D-Gary, said “I appreciate the lipstick” but still voted against the amended bill.