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State Senate's reform fatigue

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Senate President Pro Tem David Long, R- Fort Wayne. - PHOTO BY LINDSAY WENNING, THESTATEHOUSEFILE.COM
  • Photo by Lindsay Wenning, TheStatehouseFile.com
  • Senate President Pro Tem David Long, R- Fort Wayne.
With Republicans fully in charge of the General Assembly and the governor's office, it would be easy to assume that lawmakers won't even need these last two weeks of the session to finish up their work on key bills that cover state spending, utility regulation and school choice.

But that may not be the case. And it's not the usual suspect - the budget - that may keep lawmakers in session until midnight on April 29, the day state law says they must adjourn.

Senate President Pro Tem David Long, R-Fort Wayne, predicts it could instead be education issues and other signs point that way as well. Members of the House and Senate seem in different places on several aspects of this important issue.

The chambers have passed differing versions of a voucher expansion bill - with the House endorsing a significant change that would make more students eligible for the public payments to private schools. The House plan would also boost those payments, a move that private school operators say would encourage them to expand to create more space.

The Senate approved a far more modest expansion, one that tweaks the program but makes no fundamental changes. And its increase in voucher payments is modest as well.

The Senate has also twice voted to pause the implementation of Common Core, a set of national curriculum standards initially created by officials from states and later endorsed by President Barack Obama. Indiana is one of the dozens of states that have adopted Common Core but a majority of senators now want to take a second look at the issue.

The House, however, never considered the issue. Education Chairman Bob Behning, R-Indianapolis, killed a bill sent over by the Senate without even a hearing.

So what's the difference?

Long said his caucus is having some reform "fatigue." For years now, Republicans - including former Gov. Mitch Daniels - have pushed into law changes to the way schools are graded, teacher contracts are formed, students can choose where they go to school, districts receive their funding and charter schools are formed.

"People are trying to catch their breath a little bit," Long said. Senators seem interested in stepping back, letting some of the changes mature a bit and then studying them to see how they're working.

But that might not be so true in the House, where 40 percent of the members are in just their first or second terms. Some seem to believe that reform is in its infancy and they're less concerned about studying what's happened so far than they are about pushing further ahead.

Behning even said recently that he felt no need to determine whether kids who receive vouchers are doing better in private schools because the primary goal was to give parents choices for their kids' education, something at least in part accomplished with vouchers.

So as the session comes to a close, lawmakers may struggle to find way to balance the passion in the House for change with the desire among some senators to step back a bit and - as Long said - catch their breath.

The concern, Long said, is about going too far. He said senators want to see if the state is "having the positive outcome we are seeking."

"It's not an unreasonable request," he said. But it's unclear whether the House agrees.

Lesley Weidenbener is managing editor of TheStatehouseFile.com, a news service powered by Franklin College journalism students and faculty.

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