Tuesday, March 25, 2014

Vic’s Election Notes on Education #12– March 25, 2014

Dear Friends,

As in 2012, I will be writing commentaries about candidates in the 2014 elections which I call “Vic’s Election Notes on Education.”

In order to get these election commentaries, you may need to send me a different email address. A new law has set new legal rules for emails about candidates. If you are using a school district or state email address to receive this message, you will need to send me a different personal email address in order to receive “Vic’s Election Notes on Education”, an address which is not part of a messaging system operated by a public school district or by any other government employer. This includes all emails ending in k12.in.us.

This change was prompted by the 2013 General Assembly in a new law detailed below.

This change does not affect the distribution list for “Vic’s Statehouse Notes,” notes which do not discuss candidates or campaign materials.

The New Law

Indiana Code 3-14-1-17, passed in 2013 after the 2012 electoral defeat of Tony Bennett, makes it a Class A misdemeanor to “knowingly or intentionally use the property of the employee’s government employer” to advocate for or against a candidate or a public question.

Additionally, “a government employee may not knowingly or intentionally distribute campaign materials” advocating for or against a candidate or a public question using “the government employer’s real property during regular working hours.”

A second offense makes these actions a Class D felony.

The full text of IC 3-14-1-17 can be found here. Public school advocates working at the grassroots who want to elect candidates friendly to public education need to be well-versed on the details of this law.

The Supreme Irony

This law reinforces my strong belief that public schools and public equipment should not be used for partisan political purposes. As Caleb Mills recommended in the 1850’s, public schools should be non-partisan forums for the citizenship education of students as they first learn about our democracy. This law follows that long tradition.

The great flaw here is that private schools and private school computers are not covered by this law even though private schools are now getting public money. They may be using their public money to operate computers and email systems to support candidates on a partisan basis, but it is not against the law or against any regulation for private schools to engage in partisan activity.

Private schools have every right to directly tell young students how they should stand on partisan political issues or which candidates they should support. Indeed, a Statehouse rally of private school groups brought busload after busload of students to the Statehouse in 2013 to call for more private school vouchers. Do you think any students were given the opportunity to opt out of going to the Statehouse?

The seeds for the demise of our democracy have been planted in the public funding of private schools and the partisan forum they provide for educating young people. We are now using tax money to subsidize private schools including their partisan activities.

The supreme irony is that the supermajority in Indiana that passed IC 3-14-1-17 to separate public funding from partisan activity also passed in the same session a huge expansion of private school vouchers. Vouchers allow public dollars to go to private schools which have every right to engage in partisan political activity. In contrast, I believe that all public money should be focused on non-partisan public schools.

The Importance of Elections in Building Support for Public Education

The 2014 elections in May and November, as do all elections, will have a tremendous impact on the future of public education in Indiana. While “Vic’s Statehouse Notes” address general policy positions and recommendations, “Vic’s Election Notes on Education” will comment on candidates using my First Amendment freedoms and relying on my deep belief that candidates should support public education as a vital element in the continuation of our democracy.

“Vic’s Election Notes on Education” is a personal effort. It is not linked to any organization. It is not being distributed by me to any organization. It is only being distributed to those individuals who have previously sent personal requests for my commentaries.

If you want to pass “Vic’s Election Notes on Education” along to others, you do not need to ask my permission, but you do need to observe the new law described above, refraining from advocating for candidates or distributing campaign materials using the property of a government employer and refraining from such activities during working hours, as the law says.

If you want to be taken off the distribution list, just let me know. If you know of others who want to be added to the list, just send me an email.

Let me know if you have a different email address to replace a school district or a state government email address.

Thanks for your interest in the future of public education!

Best wishes,

Vic Smith

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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