An effort to expand Indiana’s private school voucher program spurred a sharp back-and-forth between two state Senate Republicans during an education committee hearing.
To qualify for Indiana’s current program for low-income families, students must attend a public school for at least one year first. Sen. Carlin Yoder, R-Middlebury, has proposed a measure that would allow siblings of those students to qualify for vouchers and head straight to private school without that one-year stint.
Sen. Luke Kenley, R-Noblesville, took issue with that idea during a Senate Education and Career Development Committee meeting Wednesday. He said he saw it as an initial step toward tearing down all of the restrictions on the voucher program that lawmakers approved in 2011.
“I think this is a pretty fundamental change, and I’m just wondering whether it’s one that really meets the intent of the original law – whether it would have passed if it was in this form to start with,” Kenley said.
Yoder quickly shot back, saying he doesn’t see how “the state of Indiana, in its infinite wisdom,” can tell low-income parents that they must shuttle their children back and forth to two schools rather than one.
“You’re right. This is a fundamental argument about whether a family makes a decision as a family unit … or if they have to make it for each individual child,” Yoder said. “It is asinine in my mind to think that they can effectively afford to do everything necessary to send their kids to two completely different schools.”
Kenley said it sounded like Yoder’s problem wasn’t the sibling situation, but the voucher law – one that pays at least $4,500 each for more than 9,100 students to attend private school right now – in general.
“That sounds like your argument is that we don’t really want to go through the test of using the public school system. We just want to have open vouchers for everybody and let everybody go to the private school,” Kenley said. “That wasn’t the agreement and the bill that we passed.”
He then said that Yoder’s bill is really a move toward “the open voucher program that you want anyhow.”
Yoder wrapped up his argument by saying: “All I’m doing is allowing these children to not for one year have to go make friends, start their educational experience, and then get yanked out because their parents already know where they want them to be.”
It appeared that Kenley will win this round.
The education panel’s chairman, Sen. Dennis Kruse, R-Auburn, noted that the bill would have to head to the Appropriations Committee if it cleared the education panel.
Kenley chairs that committee – which Yoder sarcastically noted as their exchange ended, saying to Kruse, “Who’s the chair of that?”
Though the committee did not vote Wednesday, senators continued debating Yoder’s measure. Sen. Jean Leising, R-Oldenburg, said that “obviously Senator Kenley is the guy that we have to convince.”
After several hours of testimony, Yoder closed with a reference to his exchange with Kenley.
“Senator Kenley and I are good friends. We get along well, and I have the utmost respect for him. I just want that on the record, as well. I also have some bills I want heard by him at a later date,” he said, drawing laughs.
Kruse said Yoder’s bill will get a vote next week. It will move to Kenley’s Appropriations Committee if it passes.