Senate education panel OKs limits on school-choice expansion plan – KPVI News 6

A proposal to make an Education Scholarship Account potentially available to every elementary, middle and high school student in Indiana was dialed back Wednesday by the Senate Committee on Education and Career Development.

The Republican-led panel revised Senate Bill 305 to limit ESA participation to children from families that are income-eligible for a private school voucher and to reserve 50% of ESA grants to Hoosier students with documented disabilities.

The sponsor of the measure, Sen. Brian Buchannan, R-Lebanon, said the changes reflect concerns expressed to the committee last week, particularly by the parents of current ESA students, who all must have special needs to qualify for the program.

Any ESA expansion is theoretical anyway until lawmakers decide whether to increase the $10 million ESA appropriation in the next two-year state budget that’s being crafted by the Republican-controlled House.

As a result, the legislation was forwarded to the Senate Committee on Appropriations after the education panel voted 8-5 to endorse the revised measure.

It also rejected a Democratic proposal to assign ESA issues to a legislative study committee for further analysis of ESA’s effectiveness on student achievement and impact on public school funding.

Under the plan, ESA students would not be permitted to attend a public, charter or private school using a voucher from Indiana’s Choice Scholarship Program.

In exchange, an ESA would be established for the student in the state treasurer’s office from which the student’s parent could purchase educational services, such as online education, nonvoucher attendance at a private school, participation in a microschool or learning cooperative, local tutors and similar programs approved by the state treasurer.

The money also could be used on education-related items from approved vendors, including textbooks and curricular materials, career training equipment and supplies, and computer hardware and other technological devices.

The value of the ESA would vary based on where the child lives. But it would equal the amount of money the state normally would pay in tuition support for the child in his or her home school district — $7,000 to $9,000 a year.

All students who opt for an ESA, including current home-schooled students, would be required to take Indiana’s annual ILEARN standardized test and comply with other state dictates relating to the program.

“Wow, man. What a scene. You can’t make up what we see out here on any given day,” Hobart patrol officer Tommie Tatum said.

Opponents of the proposal, including state organizations representing teachers, school boards and public school parents, contend that ESAs, like charter schools and school vouchers, will start small and eventually consume more and more of the limited resources allocated to Indiana public schools.

Separately, the education committee unanimously voted to advance Senate Bill 35 to the full Senate. It would mandate that all Indiana high school students, beginning with the Class of 2028, pass a course on financial literacy to earn a diploma.

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