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General Assembly

Schools chief to keep voucher power

– GOP House Speaker Brian Bosma killed a bill Thursday that would have cut the Democratic superintendent of public instruction out of the state voucher program.

The move came after he received assurances from Glenda Ritz that voucher enrollment would open in March.

House Bill 1342 would have moved oversight of the program from the Indiana Department of Education to Gov. Mike Pence’s administration.

“The goal was to try to send a message that we don’t want to abuse our power but we want to make sure that everything we have moved that we value in terms of reform needs to be moving forward the way it was intended,” said Rep. Robert Behning, R-Indianapolis, the author of the bill.

GOP legislators were concerned that Ritz hasn’t yet opened up voucher enrollment as her predecessor Republican Tony Bennett had done last February.

Ritz’s office said the transition slowed the process.

Indiana’s voucher program uses state tax dollars to send students to private schools. More than 9,000 students obtained vouchers this year.

Bosma also spiked a separate bill allowing parents to vote to turn public schools into charter schools – the “parent trigger.” It was House Bill 1358.

He said there has been some concern that there are too many education bills moving and this one did not make the priority cut.

Teacher union dues

The Indiana House slightly amended a bill Thursday that would bar teachers from voluntarily having their union dues deducted from their paychecks.

Rep. Woody Burton, R-Brookston, offered the change to House Bill 1334, which now says schools can collect dues but the money can’t be used for political activity.

He said he doesn’t think government resources should be spent essentially raising political donations.

The measure sparked fiery debate, as Democrats argued that Republicans continue to attack teachers. Rep. Terri Austin, D-Anderson, said the bill does not make similar prohibitions on local governments collecting police or firefighter union dues.

“You keep talking about government (not being involved) but you’re only picking on teachers,” she said.

Austin said singling out one profession over another will end up in a legal challenge.

“Let’s put this nonsense aside. We’ve got some real problems to solve and this is not one of them.”

The bill now moves to the full House for approval.

Common Core delay

The Indiana Senate voted 38-11 Thursday to reassess the state’s usage of new Common Core standards.

Senate Bill 193 temporarily delays implementation of new Common Core standards as passed by the state Board of Education.

So far, only Indiana’s kindergarten and first grades are using the math and language arts standards under a long-term phase-in plan.

Common Core was created by the nation’s governors as a way to accurately gauge national education progress.

But some Hoosiers fear the new standards are weaker than those Indiana had in place previously.

Others who testified also expressed concern that the standards will be used to federalize education.

The bill requires the state board to hold a public hearing in all nine congressional districts, and to further investigate the entire system before moving forward. It does allow second-grade standards to be put in place in the meantime.

The legislation also requires the Indiana Office of Management and Budget to perform a fiscal analysis of the projected cost to the state and school corporations of the first five years of implementation of the common core standards.

The bill now moves to the Indiana House.

nkelly@jg.net

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