We’re down to crunch time for voucher and charter-school bills

The Indiana voucher and charter school bills could get final approval from the state legislature as early as today.

The bills had been expected to go to conference committees to work out differences between the versions passed by the House and Senate. But the House authors decided to concur with changes made by the Senate. The House could vote on the concurrences in a session that starts today at 10 a.m.

Vic Smith of the Indiana Coalition for Public Education says this is an encouraging sign for voucher opponents. “It suggests that the sponsors of the voucher bill were not sure they could get a revised bill back through the Senate,” he writes. “We must focus now on the House.”

The Senate vote for the voucher bill was 28-22, in a body that Republicans control 37-13. And some of the support was pretty soft. As Smith wrote last week, several GOP senators said they were against the bill but may have been strong-armed or seduced into voting for it.

Sen. Brent Steele, R-Bedford, voted yes after the Senate approved his amendment to impose patriotic practices and curriculum on private schools that accept voucher students. He had worried that vouchers could go to Muslim madrassas or religious schools that teach hatred.

But the Senate also rejected some provisions that helped get the voucher bill passed by a 56-42 vote in the House: e.g., a requirement that voucher schools comply with ADA, fire safety and health regulations and follow state law on teacher evaluations. Will House members care?

And in a bizarre bit of legislative schizophrenia, the Senate version of the bill – the one that’s about to become law – includes both a new list of heavy-handed regulations for voucher schools and a broad statement that the state “may not in any way regulate the educational program” of the schools.

In other words, whatever it takes to get a majority to vote yes.

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