Wednesday, February 6, 2013

Vic’s Statehouse Notes #111– February 6, 2013

Dear Friends,

The House Education Committee will vote on House Bill 1003, the enormous $47 million voucher expansion bill, on Thursday morning, Feb. 7th at their 8:30am meeting in Room 156C. Please contact members of the committee listed below over night to express your deep opposition to this damaging bill.

Unbelievably, the tax deduction for home school and private school parents would triple under this bill while public school parents still get no deduction for textbooks or school expenses. The gross inequity of this provision is obvious and should be made clear as you contact members of the House.

House Bill 1003 – The Hearing

The Tuesday hearing on this major voucher expansion bill was not announced to the public until 1:30pm on Monday. That late announcement put public school advocates into quick action to try to find people who could testify against the bill early Tuesday morning. All those who showed up to speak against HB 1003 on such short notice should be thanked profusely. When the hearing began, it became clear that those speaking for the bill had no such problem of short notice. It was obvious that speakers coming from as far away as Mishawaka and Madison were well-prepared for an 8:30am appearance. It is unfortunate that Chairman Behning doesn’t see fit to give all sides of this crucial issue equal notice and equal preparation time.

After House Bills 1427 and 1443 were both passed unanimously, the hearing on HB 1003 began about 9:00am and continued without a break until 1:20pm when the committee was adjourned because the House was coming into session at 1:30. In that time, 20 speakers testified for the bill and, despite the short notice, 13 testified against the bill. Joel Hand spoke strongly for ICPE in opposition. Passionate arguments flowed on all sides, reminiscent of the 9 hour hearing held on HB 1003 in the historic 2011 voucher battle. When time ran out, seven speakers had still not had a chance to speak and were told the meeting would resume after the House floor session. Of course, no one knew exactly when that would be, so all but two had to leave before the meeting resumed about 6:00pm, including strong public school advocate Karen Combs, who had driven in from Lafayette and sat all day with another great speech which, due to the circumstances, remains undelivered.

House Bill 2003 – The Fiscal Cost

HB 1003 is for the most part not about expanding choices for families to bring new students to private schools. Many of the students given vouchers in this bill are already in private schools:
  1. Special education students currently in private schools become eligible.
  2. Children of veterans who are in private schools become eligible.
  3. Older siblings of current voucher students become eligible.
Thus, this bill is about giving financial relief to the parents of current private school students, parents who already have a student enrolled in a private school who are in one of these categories.

Giving financial relief to parents of private school students would be a generous thing for the state to do, but other parents would wonder why they aren’t being favored by the state with financial relief as well. Currently, private school and home school parents get a $1000 tax deduction for textbooks. LSA reported that the cost to taxpayers for this deduction was $2.7 million last year. This bill would extend the tax deduction to $3000 per student, costing at least an additional $5.4 million to taxpayers. Public school parents have been asking for financial relief for school textbook rental for over a decade. Why, they will ask, are private school parents getting relief when we are not?

This bill if enacted would mark a major change. Until now, all voucher students have had to transfer from a public school to a voucher school. Based on that move, each voucher would save the state money when students transferred from the public school to the less expensive private school. With this bill, for the first time, students could get a voucher without transferring from a public school. Each voucher then would become a new fiscal expense for the state, ending the rationale that vouchers save money. This bill therefore has a fiscal impact and would require new additional state funding to cover tuition support.

How much new additional state money would it cost? The LSA fiscal note on this bill said the increased payments for Grade 1 – 8 vouchers would cost between $3.8 million and $7.6 million. Under the bill, caps on vouchers would rise from $4500 to $5500 next year and to $6500 the second year.

LSA then reported that the current average scholarship is $4083. Consider costs for the three groups above:

1) Special education fiscal costs: If we multiply $4083 by the 4211 special education students already in private schools(IDOE website, latest figure available), the cost to the state would be over $17 million.

2) Children of veterans costs: If only 3% of current private school students have a parent who is an honorably discharged veteran, the cost to the state would be $8.8 million. (3% of 72,000 times $4083)

3) Sibling costs: If only one out of five of the current voucher students (20%) would have a sibling eligible for a voucher, the cost to the state would be $7.4 million dollars. That dollar figure comes from multiplying the average voucher $4083 by 1827 students, just one fifth of the 9135 who now get a voucher.

These conservative estimates for only portions of the bill add up to more than $47 million dollars.
  1. $5 million – Tax credits for preschool listed in the bill
  2. $5.4 million – additional tax deductions for home and private school
  3. $3.8 million – minimum LSA estimate for Grade 1-8 increased caps
  4. $17 million for special education students already in private schools
  5. $8.8 million for children of veterans already in private schools
  6. $7.4 million for siblings, assuming 20% have a sibling.
If the state has $47 million dollars available, it should be used to repair cuts to public school funding made during the Great Recession that were never restored and not to use it for a new program of financial relief for private school parents.

House Bill 1004 – Early Childhood Scholarship Pilot Program

House Bill 1004 will also be heard tomorrow morning in the House Education Committee. It provides scholarships for 3-5 year olds for preschool students which are certainly needed in Indiana. Unfortunately, the last section makes these students eligible for vouchers. Rather than entwining preschool education with the highly controversial voucher debate, this last section should be dropped to let the preschool assistance stand on its own without turning this program into a feeder system for voucher schools. You may want to contact members of the House on this point as well.

Contact House Education Committee Members

I urge you to contact members of the House Education Committee to express your opposition to HB 1003 before the vote tomorrow:

Chairman: Representative Behning

Republican Members: Representatives Rhoads, Arnold, Burton, Clere, DeVon, Huston, Lucas, and Thompson

Democrat Members: Representatives Vernon Smith, Battles, Errington and VanDenburgh

Then contact your own Representative to express your concerns about expanding vouchers and tripling tax deductions for home and private school parents while public school parents still get no relief.

Thanks for making your voice heard!

Best wishes,

Vic Smith

ICPE is working to promote public education and oppose damaging voucher bills in the Statehouse. We are well represented by our lobbyist Joel Hand, but to keep him in place we need all members from last year to renew and we need new members who support public education.

Go to for membership and renewal information.

Some readers have asked about my background in Indiana public schools. Thanks for asking! Here is a brief bio:

I am a lifelong Hoosier and began teaching in 1969. I served as a social studies teacher, curriculum developer, state research and evaluation consultant, state social studies consultant, district social studies supervisor, assistant principal, principal, educational association staff member, and adjunct university professor. I worked for Garrett-Keyser-Butler Schools, the Indiana University Social Studies Development Center, the Indiana Department of Education, the Indianapolis Public Schools, IUPUI, and the Indiana Urban Schools Association, from which I retired as Associate Director in 2009. I hold three degrees: B.A. in Ed., Ball State University, 1969; M.S. in Ed., Indiana University, 1972; and Ed.D., Indiana University, 1977, along with a Teacher’s Life License and a Superintendent’s License, 1998.

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