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General assembly

Voucher program shifts get approval

Senate narrowly OKs tweaks leaders settled on

– Republican majorities in the Indiana House and Senate continued their education reform march Friday by expanding the state voucher program and reviewing national Common Core standards.

House Bill 1003 eliminated the requirement that Hoosier students go to public schools for one year before obtaining a state-paid voucher to go to private schools if they would otherwise attend a public school that has an F ranking.

Students would still have to meet financial eligibility requirements.

“This bill is truly focused on what’s best for children. Heaven forbid that an F school would close or that a failing school would allow parents to have choices,” said Rep. Robert Behning, R-Indianapolis. “We’re trying to do what’s best for kids.”

Rep. Kreg Battles, D-Vincennes, pointed out that the bill would allow current private school students who have never set foot in public schools to automatically receive a state-funded voucher.

He also said the bill is hypocritical because nothing prohibits the students from using the voucher to attend an F-rated private school.

The voucher bill passed the House 55-44 and narrowly passed the Senate, 27-23.

Legislators also reworked the state’s A-F accountability rankings that are assigned to schools based on test performance.

The most recent rankings were roundly criticized after the Indiana Department of Education last year tweaked the formula.

For a while, lawmakers were considering moving to a school receiving two grades – one assessing overall student performance on state accountability tests and one showing the growth of the students on the test.

The House and Senate agreed to one letter ranking based on a measurement of individual student academic performance and growth or improvement. It cannot compare student performance with peers.

That language was in House Bill 1427, which also contains changes to Common Core standards.

The legislature has agreed to pause the Common Core standards while they are studied further.

Common Core standards were created by the states, and all but a few states signed on voluntarily. But in the last year, there has been a backlash from people who now perceive them to be federal standards and don’t want the federal government involved in local

The standards are currently being phased into a new grade each school year, and nothing will be reversed. Instead, the State Board of Education – which adopted the standards under former Gov. Mitch Daniels – will have three public hearings on the standards and the legislature will also review them.

Several education groups have warned the state might lose its No Child Left Behind waiver if the state moves away from the standards.

The bill containing both those measures passed the Senate 34-15 and the House 53-42.

A last bill focused on making schools safer.

Senate Bill 1 would set up matching grants for schools interested in hiring school resources officers, who are generally career law enforcement officers with additional school training.

The budget has $20 million in funds for the grants.

The bill passed the Senate 45-5; the House passed it 93-6.