A legislative conference committee on the bill that would expand Indiana’s school voucher program is scheduled to meet this afternoon. But don’t expect much news – or much progress at resolving differences between the House and Senate versions of the bill.
Typically these initial committee meetings are a chance for members to stake out their public positions and posture a bit. Then deals get done behind closed doors.
In this case, the House approved a version of the bill, House Bill 1003, that would make private-school vouchers available to children of military personnel, veterans and foster parents, without regard to family income. For those families, the House would drop the current requirement that students first spend a year in public school to qualify.
Under the less expansive Senate version, the year-in-public-school rule would be eliminated for students with disabilities, siblings of current voucher recipients, and private-school students who live in the attendance area of a public school that gets an F on the state’s grading system.
Rep. Bob Behning, the bill’s original sponsor, balked at the Senate amendments. That sent the measure to a conference committee, ostensibly to work out a compromise.
Each conference committee starts with one Democrat and one Republican from each chamber. For HB 1003, they’re GOP Rep. Behning and Sen. Doug Eckerty and Democratic Rep. Vernon Smith and Sen. Richard Young.
What happens if Republicans Behning and Eckerty strike a deal and Democrats Smith and Young won’t sign off? The Republican leaders of the House and Senate will simply kick the Democrats off the panel and replace them with Republicans. It stinks, but that’s how the process works.
But here’s the thing. If pro-voucher Republicans come up with a compromise version of the bill, the result – called a conference committee report – must be approved by both the House and Senate. The Senate barely approved its watered-down version last week; the vote was 27-23, with 10 Republicans voting no. So another vote creates another opportunity for voucher opponents to block the expansion.
“It ain’t over till it’s over,” Yogi Berra famously said. This was in 1973, when Berra’s Mets surged from last place in their division to win the National League title. Stop the voucher expansion? Stranger things have happened.