Friday, April 26, 2013

Vic’s Statehouse Notes #139– April 25, 2013

Dear Friends,

The final version of the voucher expansion bill emerged from the conference committee today and will be voted on by both the House and the Senate tomorrow, Friday, April 26th, the last day of the session. The final version adds additional vouchers even beyond the Senate version, and it deserves your condemnation. Let your legislators know before the final votes tomorrow that this bill goes too far.

THERE IS NO FIX IN THE FINAL BUDGET TO CAP VOUCHERS OR TO PUT VOUCHERS INTO A SEPARATE LINE ITEM. It does not control the potential damage to promised public school funding, which may be reduced pro-rata to pay for the new costs of vouchers for students already in private schools.

The Conference Committee Report #2 on HB 1003

At the outset, the report says that the House will now concur “in all Senate amendments to the bill and that the bill be further amended as follows.” With these words, it is clear that Rep. Behning has won additional concessions from the Senate conferees and the voucher expansion is bigger than when it left the Senate. All Senators must hear your outrage about this development before the vote.

Here is how it is bigger:
  • The Senate passed language on April 10th allowing easier access to vouchers for students in F schools. The final bill has expanded that to D and F schools, using the current flawed A-F grades that are widely disrespected. The bill now makes eligible for immediate vouchers without first attending public school all students who attend “a public school that has been placed in either of the two lowest categories.” Some earlier drafts said schools must get these grades two years running to be in this category. That part is gone. All 241 D schools and 148 F schools are included in this voucher give-away. The injustices of these grades are known in each school district and now must be made known to legislators.
At What Cost? Officials from the Budget Agency had testified that the new vouchers for students attending F schools would cost as much as $6 million, based on their estimate of as many as 1500 students getting new vouchers without first going to a public school, at an average cost of $4083 per voucher. Adding D schools to this provision would be proportionally at least another $9 million since the D schools outnumber the F schools by over 50%. That is an extremely conservative estimate.
  • The Senate had said that after June 30, 2014, enrollment in a virtual charter school would not count as attendance at a public school for purposes of voucher eligibility. The final version removed that language, making an easier path to voucher eligibility through virtual schools.
  • The Senate had said that if a tax-credit scholarship of at least $1000 went to a student from a Scholarship Granting Organization, then that student would be eligible for a voucher in the subsequent year. The final version removes the $1000 requirement.
Now a scholarship of any small amount from an SGO in the first year will make the student eligible for a voucher in the second year. The bill still carries language that removes any requirement to attend a public school before qualifying for a tax-credit scholarship. That means every student currently attending private schools will qualify for a voucher after this two-year sequence if they meet the family income guideline of $84,000. This clever loophole, which has eluded the attention of many legislators, could balloon the voucher eligibility count to 54,000 within two years. That is the estimated number of current private school students who meet the means test of $84,000.
Here is how the bill got smaller in the conference committee:
  • The rise in the minimum voucher has been eliminated. It would stay at $4500. Senate language to raise it to $4600 next year has been removed. This saves $400,000 ($.4 Million), the cost estimate from LSA to raise it by $100 in the first year of the budget.
  • The additional $5 million for tax-credit scholarships from SGO’s has been removed. It will stay at $5 million, where it has been since 2011.
The Balance Sheet

Throughout this session, I have analyzed the costs for next year only, trying to clarify a story that can get very complex quickly. Looking again at the costs for next year shows the costs have gone up in the final version of the conference committee report. The higher costs are less visible than the lower costs, which must be part of Rep. Behning’s strategy, but nonetheless they are higher and more damaging to your school communities.

The costs of the bill went up with the addition of D schools ($9 million per year), with the easier path to vouchers through virtual schools (cost unknown), and with the removal of the $1000 minimum (cost unknown). Increased costs in the conference committee report: AT LEAST $9 MILLION.

The costs of the bill went down with the removal of increases in the minimum voucher ($.4 million) and the removal of more tax credit money for Scholarship Granting Organizations ($5 million). Decreased costs in the conference committee report: $5.4 MILLION

Increased costs minus decreased costs: $9 MILLION minus $5.4 MILLION = $3.6 MILLION in higher costs

Let legislators know before the vote about your D schools and the higher costs of the bill due to D school vouchers. Leadership trying to pass the bill will no doubt be pointing to the $5.4 million in cuts. Your advocacy and objections about D schools will be vital to counter that argument to explain the higher costs and the absolute disruption to 18% of our schools that received a D or F, many unfairly, under a flawed system. The unfairness won’t be clear to legislators until you make it clear! Put your own story into the attached handout to communicate the injustices done to several of your schools.

The bill might have deferred the section on D and F school vouchers to a later time when the flawed grading system has been revised. It didn’t! The effects of the bill will begin as soon as it is signed. All the current injustices of the A-F system that one recent observer called a “monstrosity” will be locked into the voucher system. The bill clearly says that if the letter grade changes, all who received vouchers due to this D and F provision will continue to receive vouchers in the future.

Previous Talking Points

In addition to the new concerns, the previous concerns about the Senate amendments to the House version are still important to remember:
  • 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.
The final budget was unveiled today. THERE IS NO FIX IN THE FINAL BUDGET TO CAP VOUCHERS OR TO PUT VOUCHERS INTO A SEPARATE LINE ITEM. This leaves public and charter school funding vulnerable to pro-rata reductions, with voucher payments being made off the top of the tuition support budget and public schools getting what is left. However much legislators may support the concept of vouchers, they should not let these unpredictable cuts go through to hurt the promised funding for public and charter schools.
  • All of these issues should be studied in an interim study committee and not implemented at this time.
Call or Email Friday Morning!

Both the House and the Senate begin at 10:00 Friday morning. Votes on the voucher bill are most likely to come after lunch, but could possibly come before lunch. If public school advocates do not point out the problems of adding D schools to the voucher list, the bill will sail through with sponsors saying they trimmed money from the bill. Let them know how you feel about adding D and F schools to this program! Let them know your promised funding formula is in jeopardy depending on unpredictable numbers of new vouchers for students who have never been in the count!

Contact members of the Senate, where the vote will again be close.

Contact members of the House, where several are reevaluating their first vote.

Say “No” to HB 1003. Let the grassroots speak one more day! Thanks for standing up 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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