INDIANAPOLIS – Indiana's private school voucher program would expand, and a new choice program would be created under a bill passed 61-36 by the Indiana House on Tuesday.
Rep. Robert Behning, R-Indianapolis, said House Republicans support an “all-of-the-above” education strategy that includes strong public schools as well as options for parents who choose private schools.
House Bill 1005 would increase the amount of money families can make to be eligible for vouchers and also increase the awards themselves.
And the measure creates new Education Scholarship Accounts in which state money would be deposited for families to choose how they want to educate their children. It is open only to special education students and children of active military.
The cost of the bill is more than $65 million over the biennium.
Rep. Renee Pack, D-Indianapolis, said “expanding voucher eligibility is just not appropriate and “encourages families to withdraw from our schools.”
She added that the legislature needs to stand up for the more than 90% of students in public schools.
House Speaker Todd Huston took to the floor to defend the bill – something he usually doesn't do since he presides over the chamber. He said “we fund students, not systems” and said opposition is just an attack on parents.
“Who's accountable? Families,” Huston said.
Area legislators supported the bill except for Rep. Phil GiaQuinta, D-Fort Wayne.
The bill now moves to the Senate.
Veterans bill passes
The Indiana Senate unanimously approved a bill Tuesday that would allow more veterans to receive aid from a state military relief fund.
Senate Bill 316 would remove prohibitions requiring at least one year of active-duty service, allow those who served in non-wartime and make it easier to seek help for issues not directly related to service.
A fourth provision would allow some who were not honorably discharged access to the fund.
The bill also would allow the Indiana Department of Veterans Affairs to take up to 10% of money from that fund each year to put toward marketing and promotion of the fund – not overhead.
That is more than $200,000 a year.
“I care more about reaching them than how they are discharged,” said Sen. Chris Garten, R-Charlestown. “This extends services to some of our most vulnerable.”
A bill that would have retroactively allowed some northeast Indiana farmers to receive payments from the state grain indemnity fund was amended by the Senate on Tuesday.
Sen. Travis Holdman, R-Markle, removed the extension of the look-back period, which had been requested by some farmers affected by failed grain elevators.
“This has been a very difficult discussion to have and get through,” Holdman said.
Senate Bill 364 now moves to the full Senate.
AgLand Grain and Salamonie Mills had operated under joint ownership since 2013 in Huntington and Wells counties. In March, the state agriculture department and the Indiana Grain Buyers and Warehouse Licensing Agency suspended their licenses. The owners had defaulted on multiple loans and in April voluntarily surrendered their licenses.
That is when the Grain Indemnity Fund jumped in. It is funded by farmers to recoup losses when licensed grain buyers fail. More than 200 farmers or groups have or will receive payouts totaling $9.2 million.
But about 30 farmers were determined ineligible because state law only covers transactions up to 15 months before a failure. Their claims total $1.2 million, according to Holdman.