Monday, February 10, 2014

Vic’s Statehouse Notes #171 – February 10, 2014

Dear Friends,

The “second half” of the General Assembly session begins today. Bills passed by one house now go to the other house for consideration.

The Senate Education Committee will hear the Governor’s preschool bill HB 1004 this Wednesday February 12th beginning at 1:30pm in the Senate Chamber. Before the meeting, public school advocates should send messages to the Senators on the committee and indeed to all Senators asking them to “strike Sections 10 & 11", the sections that award a lifetime private school K-12 voucher to any preschooler that gets at least $500 for a preschool scholarship.

If you have a strong interest in preschool, you may wish to attend the hearing yourself to ask Senators to support preschool without turning the bill into an expansion of K-12 vouchers.

Last week, Senate Bill 322 died when Senator Schneider decided not to call it for a third reading vote. Also, House Bill 1320 died when Representative Behning did not call it for a third reading vote. The messages you sent opposing these two bills had a strong impact.

House Bill 1004: Preschool

The Governor’s preschool bill flew through the House in record setting time. The committee hearing was on January 9th at 8:00am, after public notice for the hearing was posted in the frigid afternoon of January 8th. HB 1004 passed second reading amendments on January 13th and then passed a final vote in the House on January 16th.

The biggest point for public school advocates against this bill is the expansion of eligibility for K-12 private school vouchers written into the bill. Known as “Choice Scholarships”, a K-12 voucher would be automatic for every preschooler that gets at least $500 for a preschool scholarship, as written in Section 10. Then Section 11 follows saying that if family income levels go up later which would normally disqualify the student from a voucher, they could still keep the K-12 voucher all the way through high school.

This leads to the message to Senators: Strike Sections 10 and 11. While preschool scholarships are needed, making them a controversial expansion to the private school voucher program is totally unnecessary and harmful to public education.

Another key point in the upcoming Senate debate is that the bill never went to House Ways and Means for a fiscal review of the costs. There is great confusion on the fiscal costs. The LSA estimated the original bill would fund 4600 scholarships at a cost of $24 million plus an additional $1.6 million for the K-12 lifetime vouchers that preschoolers would be eligible for. Then Speaker Bosma announced in the first week of the session that the bill would only fund 1000 scholarships. Then the Governor’s Center for Education and Career Innovation issued a detailed fiscal estimate dated “February 2014” which says the 5-county pilot program would fund 1500 scholarships at a cost of $10 million and lowballs the cost for lifetime K-12 vouchers at $109,000 per year. After HB 1004 passed the House, LSA issued a revised fiscal note saying preschool scholarships would cost between $7.5 and $30 million plus an additional $480,000 to $1.9 million for K-12 private school vouchers guaranteed to the preschoolers as part of this bill.

Confused about the cost to taxpayers? Apparently the Governor and the leadership believe that confusion over the costs will help them pass the bill, but it is not clear that Senators will agree.

Many Senators agree with Senator Kenley who recently articulated his belief during a committee discussion that all programs should compete equally for dollars during the budget debate next year. He expressed reluctance to commit to new programs now which would need to be funded by the next General Assembly.

Will the Governor get favored treatment on a commitment now to spend dollars in the next budget? Senators may not want to go along with that idea.

It is time to contact your Senator and indeed all Senators on HB 1004, asking them to strike Sections 10 and 11 and make clear to the public how much this will cost.

Senate Bill 322: Voucher Schools

The short life of SB 322, an unbelievable attempt to allow voucher schools to ignore ISTEP accountability and allow them to use a nationally norm-referenced test of their choice instead, will always be remembered. The bill’s lasting claim to fame will always be as the bill that the committee voted on before the testimony was given.

Just when I thought I had seen about everything.

Given that history and the fact that the “voucher schools can ignore ISTEP” clause was deleted in committee even before the historic vote, it is very appropriate that Senator Schneider the sponsor never called the bill on third reading, letting the bill die on February 4th.

Public education advocates should be alert to efforts to insert the concept of the bill into other bills later in the session.

House Bill 1320: Student Records

HB 1320 started out as a $3.7 million initiative to equip the Governor’s new State Board of Education staff with the computer capacity to make student records available to parents online and to handle all student data. As the hearing on the bill began, Rep. Behning the sponsor announced he didn’t really mean to give this program to the State Board but instead he meant that the Indiana Department of Education would expand access to student records. He amended the bill to delete all “State Board” references and replace them with “IDOE.”

This welcome but totally unexpected development removed the bill as a leading wedge in the conflict between Governor Pence and State Superintendent Ritz. After it was amended, the IDOE was never sure that the money needed to implement the new plan for student records would be forthcoming. Apparently Rep. Behning didn’t find support for his plan and he never called HB 1320 for a third reading vote, giving it a quiet death.

Next Steps

Your messages on SB 322 and on HB 1320 made a huge difference. Now I urge you to go to work on messages to Senators regarding HB 1004, asking them to strike Sections 10 and 11.

If you are moved to testify on the preschool bill, please come to the Senate Chamber at 1:30 on Wednesday to deliver your message personally: strike Sections 10 and 11.

Thanks for your active support of public education!

Best wishes,

Vic Smith

ICPE has worked since 2011 to promote public education in the Statehouse and oppose the privatization of schools. The 2014 session of the General Assembly is now half way in its deliberations. We need your membership to help support our hard working lobbyist Joel Hand. Many have renewed their memberships already, and we thank you! If you have not done so since July 1, the start of our new membership year, we urge you to renew by going to our website.

Although ICPE entered this session of the General Assembly in better financial shape than in any previous session, we still need additional support to fund the commitments our board has made for our lobbying efforts. We are counting on your financial help during the session.

We have raised the needed money in past sessions, and we must do so again. We need additional members and additional donations. We need your help and the help of your colleagues who support public education! Please pass the word!

Go to for membership and renewal information and for full information on ICPE efforts on behalf of public education. Thanks!

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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