Wednesday, April 3, 2013

Vic’s Statehouse Notes #128– April 2, 2013

Dear Friends,

The Senate Tax and Fiscal Policy Committee passed the voucher expansion bill (House Bill 1003) this morning on an 8-4 party line vote after a long hearing. Public school advocates need to send every Senator messages of your deep opposition to voucher expansion before the floor vote which could come as early as Monday April 8th and as late as next Wednesday April 10th. A close vote is expected, and your participation in contacting Senators is vital.

The Hearing

I went to the hearing prepared to testify but not even knowing whether public testimony would be taken by Senator Hershman, Committee Chair. The committee had eleven key bills to review today including the transit bill, and when schedules get crowded I have seen many such hearings on recommitted bills skip public testimony and limit discussion to legislators. Such questions turned out to be no problem for voucher proponents. Senator Hershman called first on seven supporters of HB 1003, including two parents, one from Indianapolis and one from Fort Wayne. Clearly, as in the House hearing on HB 1003, advance knowledge of hearing procedures was provided to proponents. Then Senator Hershman called on five opponents of vouchers who signed up to testify: Sally Sloan of IFT, Gayle Zeharalis of ISTA, Randy Borror representing Fort Wayne Community Schools, Joel Hand representing the Indiana Coalition for Public Education and myself. The hearing lasted two and a half hours.

Joel Hand’s excellent testimony listing the new fiscal costs of HB 1003 is attached, along with my testimony focusing on the loophole that makes nearly all current private school students eligible for a tax credit scholarship and on the use of the flawed A-F system to pass out vouchers.

The Vote

While all eight Republicans voted to advance the bill, three foreshadowed the close vote ahead in explaining their vote. First Sen. Kenley said he would vote yes today but that the bill needed “more work.” Senator Landske expressed concern about the bill, saying she would vote yes today while looking to “see what changes.” Senator Mishler in explaining his vote expressed “serious reservations” and said he would “reserve the right to vote against it on the floor.”

Republican Senators Holdman, Buck, Smith, Walker and Hershman all voted for the bill without comment. Senator Delph did not attend the hearing.

Democrat Senators Skinner, Broden, Hume and Taylor all voted against the bill.

Getting other Senators to vote against it on the floor is the task of public school advocates this week.

Special Education Funding is Back in the Bill

Senator Kenley’s comment that the bill needs more work may stem from Senator Hershman’s amendment adopted today which put state special education funding for private schools back into the bill. Just six days ago, Senator Kenley’s amendment on March 27th in the Senate Education Committee removed the distribution of state special education funding to private schools, leaving the existing public school districts the responsibility to oversee special education in the manner that has been followed for many years.

Those who watch special education matters should look closely at the updated bill. The amount of the voucher for special education students will include the basic voucher amount plus state special education dollars “that a school corporation would receive under IC 20-43-7 for the student if the student attended the school corporation.” The state board is directed to set emergency rules to monitor special education services in private schools. This raises many questions about state supervision of private schools.

Meanwhile, Back in the House, Common Core, A-F Revisions and Turnaround Operators are Back

Late this morning, Chairman Behning brought an amendment to Senate Bill 493 revisiting several topics from earlier in the session. Senate Bill 493 is Senator Hershman’s bill to give grants to schools that achieve well on ISTEP. Now it includes several new provisions, including:
  • A State Board review of Common Core.
  • A fiscal cost assessment of Common Core.
  • Voiding the current A-F system, to be replaced by November 15, 2013.
  • Putting “A” through “F” school grades in law.
  • A thorough rewrite of the 1999 Public Law 221, changing the central goal from “improvement” to “performance.”
  • Allowing turnaround school operators who take over a school to expand to other grade levels “not currently provided by the school.”
Many of these ideas came out of the failed House Bill 1337. A battle looms over this bill. While many want to see revisions in the A-F system, when Rep. Behning was asked if State Superintendent Ritz had input into this A-F plan, he said she did not.

Get Involved!

Thus, in addition to the voucher battle, a full agenda of education concerns faces public school advocates. Take your pick and get in touch with your legislators!

For my priorities, the voucher battle in the Senate must take center stage, since the voucher expansion bill sets in place damaging policies to undermine and privatize our entire public school system.

We can win this vote, working with each Senator, one by one. Remember that 21 of the current Senators voted against vouchers in 2011 and others have expressed concerns about the costs of expansion. The list is attached. We need 26 votes against the bill. Please contact your Senator, other Senators you may know, or all Senators. Share your concerns about the fiscal costs, the expanded eligibility of students already in private schools, the use of the flawed A-F system, or the addition of special education funds to the bill. Remember the vote could come as early as Monday April 8th and as late as Wednesday April 10th.

Thanks for all you do for public education! With your work at the grassroots level, we can turn back this relentless attack on public schools in Indiana.

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 gave great testimony today against voucher expansion in the Senate, we need all members from last year to renew and we need new members who support public education. Please join us!

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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