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Indiana Sen. Minority Leader Tim Lanane, Senate President David Long, House Speaker Brian Bosma and House Minority Leader Scott Pelath (left to right, back row)  at a special legislative corrections session last year.

Indiana Sen. Minority Leader Tim Lanane, Senate President David Long, House Speaker Brian Bosma and House Minority Leader Scott Pelath (left to right, back row) at a special legislative corrections session last year.

Aspiring teacher scholarship bill gutted in Senate panel after concerns over costs

An ambitious plan to lure teachers to Indiana classrooms with generous college scholarships has been scrapped by a state Senate committee.

The plan, designed to attract more students to the teaching profession, would have set up a system for aspiring teachers in the top 20 percent of their high school graduating classes to get $7,500 per year toward four years of college tuition in exchange for teaching for five years in Indiana schools.

The proposal was approved overwhelmingly by the House earlier this year where the bill authorizing the program — House Bill 1002 — passed by a vote of 96-1.

But the Senate Appropriations Committee today amended the bill to remove the new scholarship program and replace it with a charge to the Commission for Higher Education to study existing scholarship programs. The stripped-down bill passed the Senate committee 11-0 and now heads to the full Senate.

“Folks on all spectrums support the program, and it’s unfortunate the Senate has chosen to gut it,” said the bill’s author, House Speaker Brian Bosma, R-Indianapolis. He vowed to fight to for the scholarships.

When the two chambers pass different versions of bills, they go to a conference committee that tries to find a compromise. Bosma said he thought the changes were part of power play by the Senate to put pressure on House lawmakers regarding Senate bills now in the House.

“I can only presume, although I have not been told directly, that that’s a move for leverage on some other bills,” Bosma said. “I suspect the fact that my name is on the bill has something to do with it.”

But senators say their concerns with the scholarships have to do with cost. Senate President David Long, R-Fort Wayne, said the issue might not have as much support now.

“I think there’s some concerns about it, that it doesn’t have as much support as he might have had on the other side,” Long said.

Bosma released estimates earlier this year that put the expected cost of the scholarship program at $1.5 million for a 200-student cohort next year, when a new state budget is written, and $6 million per year once the program grows to 800 students. For the first four years, he said, the state would pay about $15.2 million to support the scholarships. The original bill did not ask for any money in 2016.

Sen. Luke Kenley, R-Noblesville, the chairman of the powerful appropriations committee, said that even without the added cost to the state, Indiana already has several programs that support college students studying to become teachers.

“House Bill 1002 is in the middle of … 10 programs to do this kind of thing,” Kenley said. “I felt like based on prior experiences with (earlier programs) there were some safeguards that needed to be considered before we actually adopted this.”

Bosma said he hasn’t lost hope for the scholarship. When the bill moves to a conference committee, he said he plans to argue for the original language of the bill to be back on the table. But if he’s unable to resurrect them in committee, he said he’ll undoubtedly ring the bill up again next year in the General Assembly.

“It’s unfortunate to delay it another year,” Bosma said. “It’s the right concept, it needs to happen and we’ll see if we can make it happen this session.”

If not, he said, “we’ll come back next session.”

The scholarship proposal emerged originally from talks between Bosma and Indiana State Board of Education member Gordon Hendry, a Democrat, who proposed a similar idea last year.

The pair raised concerns about schools across the state that have reported problems hiring teachers in subjects such as math, science and special education. The bill has seen broad support among lawmakers, educators and advocates.

Today on Twitter, Hendry called the changes a “major disappointment.”

“I am hopeful that lawmakers will consider adding it back into their education agenda before they adjourn,” Hendry said in a statement. “It’s important to send the message to our best and brightest that a career in the classroom is attainable and attractive, and this program would help achieve that goal.”