Wednesday, March 5, 2014

Vic’s Statehouse Notes #175 – March 5, 2014

Dear Friends,

Public school advocates need to send one more set of messages to their favorite legislators or to all legislators to delete the major expansion of K-12 vouchers in the preschool bill, House Bill 1004. The message is this:

If legislators heed the plea of Governor Pence to resurrect the preschool pilot program in the Conference Committee, they should delete Sections 10 and 11 which expand K-12 vouchers by giving every preschooler who gets as much as $500 in preschool help a guaranteed private school K-12 voucher, even when family income goes up past the income guidelines during their 13 years of schooling.

It is a way around Governor Daniels’ policy to “try public school first.”

Since the Conference Committee on HB 1004 could start any time now, please send your message to your legislators right away. They need to hear from a large number of advocates saying: no more expansion of K-12 vouchers.

Conference Committee on House Bill 1004 – Preschool Scholarships

Representative Behning filed a dissent on the Senate version of HB 1004, and a conference committee has been appointed to reconcile the House version and the Senate version. Conference committee members include:

Rep. Behning (R)–House Conferee

Rep. VanDenburgh (D)- House Conferee

Sen. Pete Miller (R)– Senate Conferee

Sen. Rogers (D)– Senate Conferee

Rep. Thompson (R)– House Advisor

Rep. Sullivan (R)– House Advisor

Rep. Vernon Smith (D)– House Advisor

Sen. Kenley (R)– Senate Advisor

Sen. Broden (D)– Senate Advisor

Sen. Kruse (R)– Senate Advisor

Sen. Yoder (R)– Senate Advisor

Your messages to break the link between preschool scholarships and K-12 vouchers should be sent to these members of the Conference Committee along with other legislators you may want to contact.

The House Version

The House passed their version with lightning speed on January 16th by a vote of 87-9, just one week after the initial committee hearing on January 9th. The bill provided for a pilot program in five counties, giving scholarships of $6800 for full day and $3400 for half day programs and establishing provisions for assessments and accountability.

I and many others have advocated for preschool funding for over a decade, but the Governor has crafted a bill that not only funds preschool scholarships but also guarantees private school K-12 scholarships for those preschoolers for the next 13 years. The bill doesn’t need to link preschool and K-12 vouchers. Deleting Sections 10 and 11 of the House version would break that link, keeping the bill focused on preschool and out of the controversy of our generation, whether to privatize our public schools by funding more and more K-12 private schools with public money.

The rationale often heard for linking a preschool voucher with a guaranteed lifetime K-12 voucher is to allow parents who choose a private preschool to keep their child in the same school for kindergarten, but this bill does not say that. It has no language about continuity of schools. It says that if children get at least $500 for preschool, they along with their siblings become eligible for a state-funded voucher from kindergarten through high school even if family income goes up beyond the voucher income rules.

Thus, a student going to a preschool in a public school could go to a religious school using a K-12 voucher.

That is far more than a continuity rule. That is a pipeline to K-12 vouchers for every low-income preschooler.

The House bill was never sent to the House Ways and Means Committee, which apparently aligns with Representative Behning’s statements that the program would not start this year but would start next year after money was allotted to it in next year’s budget. This is a controversial move. The General Assembly seldom chooses to pass programs which obligate the next General Assembly to provide funding.

Confusion remains about the funding issue. Speaker Bosma said at the outset of the session that 1000 scholarships would be provided, after Governor Pence called in December for funding for 40,000 scholarships. Now Representative Behning says that no scholarships would be funded this year, but the detailed CECI report on HB 1004 issued in February stated that $650,000 would be needed this year even before the new budget to pay for staff work to get the framework of the program in place and ready to begin when the General Assembly funds money for the scholarships.

Clearly, this confusing funding sequence has raised many fiscal concerns as Senators reviewed the bill.

The Senate Version

HB 1004 was amended in the Senate by a final vote of 44-5 to establish a prekindergarten and early learning study commission. It prescribes ten topics for study this summer. Senator Kenley said in committee that this study would clarify a framework for the program that could then be considered for funding alongside all the other programs that will seek funding in the next budget.

One of the ten topics says the commission will “study the appropriate state agency or entity to oversee and develop early learning accountability standards.” The House version puts the administration of the preschool program in the hands of the child care section of the Family and Social Services Administration (FSSA). Senator Kenley pointed out in committee that standards and assessment issues have always been handled by the Department of Education and the State Board of Education. In testimony on HB 1004, I and several others called for the program to be administered by the Indiana Department of Education to coordinate the P-16 plan adopted by the Roundtable several years back. This is a key point for review.

On February 25th, the Governor announced plans to resurrect the preschool pilot in the House version by making an appearance at the Shepherd Community Center preschool which is affiliated with the Horizon Christian School, a voucher school making a D in the state’s grading system last year and teaching a creationist curriculum. All this was well documented by Karen Francisco in an insightful Fort Wayne Journal Gazette column on Feb. 26th entitled “Feeding the creationist pipeline.”

The lingering question here is: Does the Governor care more about saving the preschool provisions or saving the K-12 voucher expansion? He would get a lot more support if he would decouple Sections 10 and 11 from the pilot program and thus break the link between much needed support for preschool and the next major expansion of K-12 vouchers.

Let the members of the Conference Committee know that however the bill is crafted in the Conference Committee, Sections 10 and 11 expanding K-12 vouchers for preschool scholarship students should be deleted. This is an important message that House and Senate leaders and indeed all legislators need to hear from all parts of the state.

Thanks for contacting your legislators and 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 past the half way mark 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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