Sunday, April 21, 2013

Vic’s Statehouse Notes #135– April 21, 2013

Dear Friends,

The controversial voucher expansion bill still must pass both the House and the Senate this coming week after the Conference Committee version is agreed upon. It’s time for public school advocates to send messages on Monday and Tuesday to legislators that they should stop this bill because it would deeply erode the funding promised to public schools.

The damage caused by voucher expansion to public school funding is now clear and is unacceptable. See the details below and attached. Instead the bill should go to a summer study committee. Please share this message with legislators using these points.

On Wednesday, April 17th, the Conference Committee on the budget bill (HB 1001) heard many objections to voucher expansion during two hours of public testimony. On Thursday, April 18th, the Conference Committee on HB 1003, voucher expansion, also heard many opponents to voucher expansion in 20 minutes of public testimony. Joel Hand represented the Indiana Coalition for Public Education in both hearings, emphasizing the expensive new fiscal costs of voucher expansion that would take $23 million away from next year’s tuition support budget for public schools.

The Conference Committee on the Budget Bill – HB 1001

Twenty-four conferees and advisors heard the concerns of 36 members of the public about the massive 2-year budget bill. Of these speakers, seven testified about the problems caused by voucher expansion. Joel Hand presented a new handout, which is attached, clearly showing the huge new fiscal costs for funding vouchers for students already in private schools who have never been in the school budget count. In year 1 of the budget, those costs total at least $23 million. That breaks down to $13 million for special education students already in private schools, $4 million for siblings already in private schools and $6 million for entering kindergarteners and students already in private schools living in attendance areas of F schools.

Here is the big problem for the budget writers: This $23 million, a very conservative figure, will have to come out of the $124 million increase budgeted by the Senate for tuition support for all public schools because there is no separate line item in the budget for vouchers. Public schools are being told they will get $124 million, a 1.9% increase, in the first year of the new budget, but they won’t unless the budget plan is changed. Instead, under current law the $23 million will be taken off the top for private school vouchers, and the public school budget will be reduced to $101 million, an 18% cut from $124 million. Your legislators should be told that they must not let this happen. Many are not aware of these numbers.

In the second year of the budget, the situation gets worse for public schools. The potential new costs for the expanded voucher program for students who have never been in the count is $179 million, eating up 90% of the $189 million budgeted for public schools. This is an astounding problem which must be addressed by the budget conferees. Study the handout and contact your legislator. They have to fix this!

My testimony on Wednesday, which is also attached, explains why the second year costs of voucher expansion have the potential to balloon completely out of control. The reason goes back to the removal of one sentence from current law, thereby ending the requirement that to get a tax credit “School Scholarship” from a Scholarship Granting Organization, the student must enroll in a public school the preceding year. This opens the door to allowing every current private school student in Indiana to receive a tax credit “School Scholarship”, as long as their family meets the $84,000 family of four income guideline. Once students have a “School Scholarship”, current law allows them to have a voucher in the next school year. This means that in the second year of the biennium, the potential exists for an additional 38,000 students who are already in private schools to get a voucher. This is untenable for the public school tuition support budget, and you must get your legislator’s attention to fix this in the coming week!

Please look closely at the two attachments -- HERE and HERE.

The Conference Committee on the Voucher Expansion Bill- HB 1003

The conferees and advisors on HB 1003 met on Thursday at 1:00pm to begin resolving the differences between the House and Senate versions. Rep. Behning announced that he would like to see more money returned to the minimum voucher payment. He would like to lift the Senate figure of $4600 to $4700 in the first year of the budget, and then in the second year of the budget to raise the Senate figure of $4700 up to $4900. He didn’t cite the extra costs, but I can tell you that based on LSA estimates, this change would add an additional $1.2 million to the Senate version’s costs over the next two years, exacerbating the budget funding problem described above.

Rep. Behning also announced he would like to change the language of the bill to say that vouchers would be available to those living in the attendance area of not just F schools, but also D schools, phrased as “the lowest two categories.” Currently, Indiana has 148 F schools and 241 D schools, using the widely disrespected A-F system now in place. Rep. Behning’s idea would more than double the number of schools that would allow immediate vouchers based on school performance.

Those present who wished to give public testimony were given one minute to speak about the bill. Joel Hand used his minute to pass out the handouts that are attached and described above. I had to leave after the opening remarks for a doctor appointment, but my written testimony was distributed explaining the huge fiscal problem created by removing the public school attendance requirement for School Scholarships explained above.

Now the conference committee will disappear behind closed doors to hammer out the final language for voucher expansion. If Rep. Behning insists on adding back all the provisions that the Senate took out, it may be difficult to reach an agreement. In this potentially contentious debate, it would help our efforts to diminish the bill to have messages of opposition from as many of you as possible in this final week.

One More Week: Let Legislators Hear from You!

Speaker Bosma has declared that he thinks the General Assembly should adjourn on Friday, April 26th. By law, they can meet up to midnight on Monday, April 29th. Speaker Bosma also wants to expand the voucher bill beyond what the Senate passed and assigned himself as an advisor to the HB 1003 Conference Committee to promote a bigger bill.

We need a barrage of messages from public school advocates this week to bend the final outcomes to mitigate the damage to public education:

For members of the Conference Committee on the budget, HB 1001:
  • It is outrageous and untenable for them to leave the entire tuition support budget for public schools vulnerable to the erosion caused by an unpredictable number of new vouchers for students who have never been in the count.
  • Whether the cut to public schools caused by vouchers is 18% or 90%, it must not be allowed.
  • They must put vouchers in a separate line item in the budget and thereby guarantee that the public schools will actually get the money that appears in the budget and will not be docked later to pay for vouchers.
These above points should be made to the following members of the Conference Committee on the budget:

House Conferees: Rep. Tim Brown (R) and Rep. Porter (D)

Senate Conferees: Sen. Kenley (R) and Sen. Tallian (D)

House Advisors: Republican Representatives Turner, Thompson, Dermody, Crouch and Cherry and Democrat Representatives Candelaria Reardon, Goodin, Kersey, Klinker, Niezgodski, Pryor and Stemler

Senate Advisors: Republican Senators Hershman, Mishler, Charbonneau, Pat Miller, Wyss and Delph and Democrat Senators Skinner and Hume

For members of the Conference Committee on voucher expansion, HB 1003:
  • Allowing kindergarteners to start out with vouchers would, according to LSA and cited by Sen. Kenley, cost $7 million year after year after year. The Senate refused to go there, and the Conference Committee should not go back to that.
  • Changing the central eligibility requirement for a tax credit “School Scholarship” will potentially balloon the numbers of “Choice Scholarships” in the following year. The requirement to enroll first in a public school to get a “School Scholarship” should be reinserted.
  • Using the flawed A-F system for any purpose is wrong until it is revised, especially if that purpose is to make voucher decisions. The Senate’s new idea to link vouchers to the A-F system should be deleted.
  • The Senate’s new language to give all federal and state special education funds directly to private school parents in the voucher amount will require controversial regulations of private school services by federal and state authorities and raise thorny legal issues about distributing federal funds to private school parents. This language has not been vetted and opens a can of worms. It should be abandoned.
These points above should be made to the following members of the Conference Committee on HB 1003:

House Conferees: Rep. Behning (R) and Rep. Vernon Smith (D)

Senate Conferees: Sen. Eckerty (R) and Sen. Richard Young (D)

House Advisors: Republican Representatives Bosma and Huston and Democrat Representatives Battles, VanDenburgh and Errington

Senate Advisors: Republican Senators Yoder and Leising and Democrat Senators Rogers and Skinner

For all members of the House and Senate:

If your member voted no the first time, they should continue to vote no. The final version of voucher expansion has not removed the damage to public school funding. It still threatens public schools with a loss of expected funds, at least $23 million in the first year of the budget and up to $179 million in the second year.

If your member voted yes the first time, ask them to reconsider based on the current problems of the bill:
  • It uses the seriously flawed A-F system to pass out vouchers. That is wrong.
  • It entwines federal special education money with private school special education services and new regulations for monitoring such services. Yet state regulation of private schools is illegal under the 2011 voucher law. The current language will be vulnerable to lawsuits.
  • The final product could seriously undermine tuition support payments to public and charter schools, with estimates of the loss ranging from 18% to 90%. This is totally unacceptable. However much legislators may support the concept of vouchers, they should not let these unpredictable cuts go through to hurt public and charter schools.
  • All of these issues should be studied in an interim study committee and not implemented at this time.
These talking points should be shared with all who voted “Yes” in the initial votes:

27 Republican Senators voted yes: Senators Banks, Boots, Bray, Buck, Crider, Delph, Eckerty, Hershman, Holdman, Kenley, Kruse, Leising, Long, Merritt, Nugent, Pat Miller, Pete Miller, Paul, Schneider, Smith, Steele, Walker, Waltz, Wyss, Yoder, Michael Young and Zakas.

57 Republican Representatives voted yes: Representatives Arnold, Baird, Behning, Braun, T. Brown, Burton, Carbaugh, Cherry, Crouch, Culver, Davis, Davisson, DeVon, Eberhart, Friend, Frizzell, Frye, Gutwein, Hamm, Harman, Heaton, Heuer, Huston, Karickhoff, Kirchhofer, Kubacki, Lehe, Lehman, Leonard, Lucas, Lutz, Mayfield, McMillin, Messmer, Morris, Morrison, Negele, Niemeyer, Ober, Pond, Price, Richardson, Slager, Smaltz, M. Smith, Speedy, Steuerwald, Thompson, Torr, Turner, Ubelhor, VanNatter, Washburne, Wesco, Zent, Ziemke and Speaker Bosma

Messages Needed Monday and Tuesday!

My reading of the situation is that there are still many moving parts and many difficult issues to settle in the next week. A strong message from you to your Senator and to your Representative in the House based on the one or two talking points above that have you riled up could make a huge difference in the outcome. Let them know this matter will resonate with you in the next election.

Then if you can, send additional messages to the members of the conference committee on the budget and on voucher expansion. Conference committee members are listed above.

Please send messages via phone, email or letters for one more week! Let legislators know that their actions on voucher expansion and on supporting public education will be remembered in the next election. If you can get one or two legislators to take a second look at the way the funding for vouchers will erode the funding promised to public schools, you will have done a great service to public school students that deserve better and predictable funding.

This final week needs grassroots action. Thanks for all you are doing for public education!

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 during conference committees, we need all members from last year to renew and we need new members who support public education. Please join us! Thanks to all who have joined or sent extra donations recently!

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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