Tuesday, March 12, 2013

Vic’s Statehouse Notes #124– March 12, 2013

Dear Friends,

Hundreds of private school elementary and middle school students came to a Statehouse rally yesterday to hear Governor Pence, Speaker Bosma, Senate President Long and Jalen Rose advocate for expansion of the voucher program. The Republican leadership supports the House Bill 1003 plan to spend at least $21 million in new funding for vouchers for students already in private schools. Indiana hasn’t done that before. Up to now, vouchers were known as a savings to the state because they would only go to students transferring from public to private schools. This bill would set a new precedent.

Grassroots supporters of public education need to convince individual Senators that the leadership is advocating for a bill that will hurt the public schools of Indiana, schools which still receive broad support from the electorate as seen last fall in the election of Glenda Ritz. Come to the Statehouse rally on March 19th at 2:30 to stand up for public education at this key turning point.

Rally vs. Rally

Gov. Pence told the crowd yesterday that 12 percent of high school seniors failed to graduate last year, not mentioning the fact that 88% is the highest rate of four–year graduates Indiana has ever had, up each year from 76% in 2006, the first year of tracking every student by number to measure graduation rate. He also told the crowd that 200,000 students are attending D or F rated schools, without explaining that a strong consensus has emerged in the General Assembly that the rating system itself is seriously flawed.

The Indianapolis Star reported attendance at yesterday’s Statehouse rally as “more than 1000, many of them children”. They wore brightly colored T-shirts naming rally sponsors which included Americans for Prosperity, funded by the Koch Brothers, and the American Federation for Children, funded by the DeVos (Amway) family from Michigan. The rally was obviously well funded.

The rally on March 19th is not well funded. We will not have free T-shirts for all, and homemade signs are the best we can do. We do however, as taxpayers and grassroots advocates for public education, know the history of public schools as the bedrock of our democracy. They are non-sectarian and non-partisan forums for preparing children for their roles as citizens in our democracy. Changing our schools over to state-funded sectarian and partisan forums for young citizens imperils our democracy. It is an experiment with our children, the outcome of which will not be known for a generation.

The proposed voucher expansion will over time absorb more and more funds from public school students. This bill will give one-sixth of the new money for education directly to private school students. With your help, HB 1003 can be stopped, starting with conversations with your Senators and Representatives on March 19th either before or after the rally.

Long Term Goals

It is clear from the original version of the voucher expansion bill that the ultimate goal of the leadership is a universal voucher program, available to all students at taxpayer expense to go to private and religious schools without restrictions for eligibility. A path to a nearly universal voucher is still in HB 1003 in a little discussed but huge change in eligibility policy in the tax credit “School Scholarship” program, whereby students get tuition scholarships from Scholarship Granting Organizations. House Bill 1003 removes the requirement that to receive a tax credit scholarship, a student must have been enrolled in a public school during the preceding school year. With this change, any student can receive a tax credit scholarship from the SGO, and then in the following year can get a voucher. Current law gives a voucher to any student who has previously received a tax credit scholarship. In this sequence, the requirement disappears that students must be enrolled in a public school before becoming eligible for a voucher.

Thus, if HB 1003 passes, the path is clear for any student in families earning up to $85,000 to get a voucher. A long battle was fought in the 2012 session against a bill that would have given tax credit scholarship eligibility to all 8th graders, opening up vouchers for all high school students. The bill failed after heavy opposition by ICPE and other public school advocates. Now House Bill 1003 sweeps that idea aside and makes all students eligible for tax credit scholarships.

Fiscal Costs

The quest for an extremely generous bill for private school parents was reigned in slightly as the bill went through two committees and the House floor:
  • Making all special education students currently in private schools eligible for a voucher was later given an income limit whereby such children in families of four making $85,000 or less would be eligible for vouchers. Estimated cost to taxpayers: $12.8 million (4211 special education student in private schools X 75% meeting means test X $4083 per voucher)
  • Making all children of veterans currently in private schools eligible was first given an income limit of $127,000 and then later given the $85,000 income limit. Estimated cost to taxpayers: $6.6 million (3% of the 72,000 in private schools X 75% meeting means test X $4083)
  • Moving the minimum voucher from $4500 to $5500 (up 22%) and then to $6500 (up 18%) in the next two years was trimmed back to $5000 in the first year (up 11%) and then to $5500 in the second year (up 10%). LSA’s estimated cost to taxpayers: $1.9 million
These three provisions add up to a fiscal cost of $21 million which will come from the tuition support budget which goes to all schools. There is no separate line item for funding vouchers. When the House budget allocated $132 million new dollars for tuition support, a 2% increase over the current year’s funding of $6.50 billion, they were apparently intending that one-sixth of that amount, $21 million, go toward private school tuition and only $111 million go toward public school tuition. Shrinking public school funding in this way will hurt the education of public school students.

An additional $5 million for tax credits is in the bill for preschool scholarships through Scholarship Granting Organizations. This added to the $21 million listed above brings the conservatively estimated total cost to $26 million.

Additional Objectionable Provisions

The fiscal costs cited above are extremely conservative. They do not include costs for the following changes:
  • All foster children in families earning $85,000 or less can get a voucher.
  • All siblings of children already getting vouchers are made eligible for a voucher.
  • All kindergarten children can get a voucher. This could add a huge number of new vouchers.
  • The special education money that currently goes to the public school district would go directly to the private school. This is a huge change in policy regarding federal special education money and opens a tremendous number of thorny questions about the enforcement and monitoring of federal special education laws in the private schools.
In addition, in one more swipe at State Superintendent Glenda Ritz, House Bill 1003 limits the approval authority of the department in overseeing the law. Look at the actual wording:
(b) The department shall approve an application for an eligible school within fifteen (15) days after the date the school requests to participate in the choice scholarship program.

(c) The department shall approve an application for a choice scholarship student within fifteen (15) days after the date the student requests to participate in the choice scholarship program.
A careful reading will show that the department is not only to consider or to act upon applications in a timely way but “shall approve” all applications. That is truly an astounding dictate to insert into a proposed law and certainly deserves to be amended.

Come to the Rally! Tuesday, March 19th, 2:30pm, South Atrium

The grassroots supporters of public education seldom gather in one place and haven’t clearly been heard from since the resounding election of Glenda Ritz. I am hoping they will gather in the Statehouse on March 19th. What will motivate advocates for public education to come to the Statehouse?
  • Concern that every student in families earning up to $85,000 will be eligible for a voucher if they get a tax credit scholarship the prior year?
  • The awareness that HB 1003 will go down if the 21 Senators still in the Senate who voted against vouchers in 2011 can be persuaded to continue their opposition and 5 more can be persuaded to join them?
  • The knowledge that the Koch-funded Americans for Prosperity helped sponsor Monday’s rally in support of HB 1003?
  • Concern about the accountability for special education money going directly to private schools?
  • Concern about limiting the authority of Glenda Ritz?
  • Outrage that one-sixth of the money budgeted next year for all tuition support will actually go to private school tuition when public schools still have not been made whole after the recession-era cuts?
  • An 11% increase in the minimum voucher when tuition support is budgeted to get a 2% increase?
The future of public education in Indiana stands at a defining crossroads. I hope you will come speak with your Senator and your Representative in opposition to HB 1003 and then join the rally at 2:30pm. Ask your friends and your family to join you to help convince Senators and Representatives that they should draw the line and stop the plan to expand vouchers. This is a crucial moment for public education.

Will you come? Will you get a friend to come?

Best wishes,

Vic Smith

ICPE is working to promote public education and oppose privatization of schools in the Statehouse. I keep hearing reports that some public school supporters read these “Notes” with great interest but don’t translate that interest into joining ICPE. To keep our outstanding lobbyist Joel Hand in place, who is working hard against voucher expansion, we need all members from last year to renew and we need new members who support public education. Please join us!

Go to www.icpe2011.com 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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