Indiana considers school voucher expansion, higher ed reform

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Indiana is looking at some major initiatives that could change the face of both K-12 and higher education in the state.

Gov. Mike Pence supports a significant expansion of Indiana's school voucher program, which is already one of the largest in the United States.

Pence policy director Marilee Springer told members of the House education committee Tuesday that the governor supports a sweeping package of education changes that would end a one-year waiting period to obtain the scholarships.

State law currently requires that students spend at least a year in a public school before qualifying for vouchers to ensure low-income families in failing schools benefit the most. The voucher program provides state aid so students in low- and middle-income families can attend private schools.

Pence didn't mention lifting the public school requirement during his campaign but has broadly supported the voucher program.

Springer also asked lawmakers to approve specific Pence priorities in the education package.

Higher ed reform

Meantime, two Indiana state senators are proposing reforms for higher education.

State Sens. Jim Banks (R-Columbia City) and Dennis Kruse (R-Auburn) say there's an unprecedented number of higher education bills coming through the Senate Committee on Education and Career Development this legislative session.

The senators point to figures that say only 36 percent of Hoosiers have a college degree, a figure unchanged since 1960. They'd like to improve that number through lower costs, administrative accountability and credit transfers.

The bills include:

· Senate Bill 98 - Expands the autonomy and independence of regional college campuses.

· Senate Bill 177 - Gives resident tuition rates for undergraduate courses to qualified veterans.

· Senate Bill 180 - Improves transparency in higher education grading and hiring practices.

· Senate Bill 182 - Enhances credit transferability among different types of degrees.

· Senate Bill 209 - Establishes graduate degree programs at Indiana University Purdue University - Fort Wayne that will be targeted toward high-impact industries for northeast Indiana.

· Senate Bill 402 - Creates the Principal Leadership Academy within Indiana State University to strengthen leadership and management skills for current Indiana public school principals.

· Senate Bill 406 - Establishes a streamlined program for administering college-level classes to high school students for dual credit.

· Senate Bill 409 - Increases accountability for issuing teacher's licenses by requiring education departments of colleges to issue them instead of the Department of Education.

The Senate Committee on Education and Career Development will hear this legislation at its meeting on Wednesday, Feb. 6 at 1:30 p.m. in the Senate Chamber.