NEWS: Indiana Gov. Daniels' education reform plan good to go

From the South Bend Tribune:

INDIANAPOLIS — The last two pieces of Gov. Mitch Daniels’ wide-ranging education reform agenda are ready for his signature.

The Indiana House of Representatives gave final approval Wednesday to bills that will help establish more charter schools in the state and enable low- and middle-income families to receive tax-funded vouchers if they want to take their children out of public schools and send them to private schools instead.

Other education bills that already have been approved include new limits on teacher collective bargaining and requirements to factor student performance into teacher evaluations.

State schools Superintendent Tony Bennett said in a statement Wednesday that the reforms put Indiana at the front of a national movement. “Our children will thrive in a system that provides quality options to all students, regardless of their ZIP code or how much money is in the family bank account,” he said.

House Minority Leader B. Patrick Bauer, D-South Bend, said expanding charter schools and starting a voucher program will take millions of dollars away from traditional public schools, hurting those schools and the students who attend them.

“Universal public schools are going to be diminished,” he said. “We’re going to see an increase in charter schools and a proliferation of private schools. It’s a matter of money.”

Representatives voted 61-37 for House Bill 1002, the charter schools measure. Every Republican and one Democrat, Rep. Mary Ann Sullivan of Indianapolis, supported it.

The voucher legislation, House Bill 1003, passed by a vote of 56-43, with all the yes votes coming from Republicans. Four GOP members, including Rep. Tim Neese of Elkhart voted against it.

“This is a new option to give kids the best chance at success,” said Rep. Tom Dermody, R-LaPorte. “We all talk about the poor kids and say we want to help them. Now we have a chance to do it.”

Dermody, a former board president for LaPorte Community School Corp., said the vast majority of Hoosier children will remain in traditional public schools, which will continue to receive most of the states attention and funding.

Indiana public schools have more than 1 million students. The number of available vouchers would be limited to 7,500 the first year and 15,000 the second year.

Voucher values would be based on the state’s per-pupil funding for a qualifying family’s school district and would be capped at $4,500 for students in first through eighth grades.