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Bosma: Voucher overpayments might merit tougher rules

Indiana House Speaker Brian Bosma, R-Indianapolis, said Thursday he is considering if Indiana’s private school voucher program needs a revamped audit trail to better document money flowing between the state and private schools in the wake of $3.9 million in over payments made the last three years.

At a Chalkbeat event Thursday, which was focused on on school funding issues, Bosma said fair questions were prompted about who is in responsible for oversight for the state’s burgeoning voucher program when 80 schools returned money due to miscalculations of voucher money they received.

“People’s jaws dropped,” Bosma said. “It’s a worthy point that perhaps we need to have some audit trail that’s a little more significant to make sure that money’s not being misapplied.”

But Bosma said he’s “not prepared to say” whether voucher accountability should be a high priority in the just-underway legislative session. Gov. Mike Pence wants to add more funding to the voucher program this year by lifting the state’s $4,800 per-student funding cap for vouchers used to pay tuition at private elementary schools.

There is no cap on how much state money can be redirected to pay high school tuition under the voucher program. For high schools, the voucher amount is still limited to 90 percent of the state basic tuition aid of the school district the voucher student lives in.

First, Bosma said, rules for schools that accept voucher payments should be clarified.

“If you don’t know what the rules are or the rules aren’t clear, it’s pretty easy to make a mistake,” Bosma said. “Once there’s clarity, we’ll see if there needs to be further auditing.”

Critics think the state should go further to hold the voucher program accountable. Last year the program spent $80 million on private school tuition and this year vouchers are expected to serve about 29,500 students across the state, poising Indiana to become the nation’s largest voucher state.

Indianapolis Public Schools Superintendent Lewis Ferebee said he doesn’t have a problem with choice scholarships, but he wants everyone to play by the same rules.

“When you allocate public dollars to private institutions, we need to begin to think about the same accountability that we have for traditional public schools and charter schools,” Ferebee sad. “I don’t think the same accountability measures are there.”

But Bosma said he’s not wild about putting more restrictions on the state’s voucher program.

“We’re actually looking at ways to deregulate public schools,” Bosma said. “I’m hesitant to turn around and say, ‘OK, it’s time to get real heavy regulatory on the voucher program, but we have to take a look and get to the bottom of what the misunderstandings were.”

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