It looks like the Indiana General Assembly is racing to finish its work by midnight – even though, by law, it could wrap up next Monday. That means there will be a vote by tonight on House Bill 1003, which greatly expands Indiana’s controversial and almost uniquely generous private-school voucher program.
The final version of the bill hasn’t yet been posted on the legislature’s website. But Vic Smith of the Indiana Coalition for Public Education says a House-Senate conference committee approved it Thursday, apparently after Democratic members were removed from the panel and replaced by Republicans.
The conference committee bill, Smith says, expands the voucher program to include income-qualified students who live in the attendance area of a school that gets a D or F on the state’s A-to-F grading system. That’s almost 400 schools – nearly one in every five public schools in the state.
When the Senate approved HB 1003 two weeks ago, the expansion included only F schools. And the vote then was close, 27-23. By rights it should be close again today.
Here’s key question for lawmakers: Why be in such a hurry? Tying vouchers to school grades has never been thoroughly debated by the legislature, let alone by the public. In fact, there’s strong sentiment from many quarters that the grading system is flawed.
There are no elections this fall, and the same legislators who are there now will be back in 2014. If expanding vouchers is a good idea now, it will be a good idea next year. If linking vouchers to school grades is a good idea now, it will be a good idea next year. Legislators could take a year to study the question and make a serious, measured decision in 2014.
Hoosiers tend to be conservative, and our conservatism has been tied to caution and common sense, ever since that canal-building business turned out so badly back in the early 1800s. The last day of a hurry-up legislative session isn’t the time to throw caution and common sense to the wind. Indiana legislators, of all people, should know that.