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The Journal Gazette

Thursday, March 30, 2017 1:00 am

Furthermore …

Voucher bill drops standards further

Indiana lawmakers have no evidence that school vouchers are improving education, but that's not stopping them from spending more on vouchers. House Bill 1384 eliminates another safeguard on public spending, allowing unaccredited schools to collect voucher dollars in their first year of operation.

Currently, a school must be accredited to receive voucher dollars. The legislation would allow anyone to open a private school in Indiana and immediately collect voucher payments.

“One of our fears is by opening up our voucher program to schools that have not been in our state before, have not previously been accredited here, is we could be opening it up to the wild, wild West,” Joel Hand of the Indiana Coalition for Public Education told the Indianapolis Star.

“We already have an issue with a number of private schools that accept vouchers that aren't performing well. Now we're talking about potentially bringing in schools from out of state that have no record here in Indiana giving them a free rein to vouchers right from the get-go.”

But that's not all. House Bill 1384 also includes a break for the private schools that aren't performing well.

A voucher school placed in the lowest two performance categories for two years is not permitted to enroll new voucher students. But the legislation would allow the schools to request a waiver and continue to enroll voucher students if they can prove a majority of students have improved academically.

The fiscal note for the legislation suggests the legislation would save the state money because voucher payments are less than the per-pupil tuition reimbursement for a traditional public school.

The intent of the original voucher bill was to give students an alternative to a failing public school. With HB 1384, a less-expensive failing school would be just fine with its sponsors.

The bill passed the House on a 60-32 vote. Rep. Phil GiaQuinta, D-Fort Wayne, was the only northeast Indiana House member to vote no. The Senate Education and Career Development Committee approved the legislation Wednesday, leaving a full Senate vote as the last step before once again expanding the state's voucher system.