Wednesday, October 29, 2014

Vic’s Election Notes on Education #24– October 29, 2014

Dear Friends,

Leaders of the Republican Supermajority who underfunded public education in the 2013 budget are sounding somewhat defensive as they try to entice voters who support public education to stay in their camp. Speaker Bosma on October 14th listed his first education platform plank as: “Increase base funding for K-12 education,” but he wouldn’t say by how much.

The 2013 budget he helped create gave public education only a 1% increase for the current school year, 2014-15. Glenda Ritz has said public schools need a 3% increase in the 2015 budget. The voters are making up their minds.

To get voter approval, Speaker Bosma apparently felt the need to say public school funding would be increased, but he didn’t make a firm dollar commitment to do better than the 2013 budget. Will the voters notice?

[Please note: Indiana Code 3-14-1-17 says that government employees including public school employees may not “use the property of the employee’s government employer to” support the “election or defeat of a candidate” and may not distribute this message “on the government employer’s real property during regular working hours.” Ironically, the law does not prevent private school employees from using computers purchased with public voucher money to distribute campaign materials. Private schools now financed in part by public voucher dollars have retained all rights under Indiana’s voucher laws to engage in partisan political campaigns.]

Two Defenses for Low Public School Budgets

Republican leaders offer two defenses for the historically low public school funding they provided in the last budget, the lowest increases we have ever seen when there was a revenue surplus and no recession.

Both defenses discussed below are flawed. Voters should instead vote for candidates who genuinely support public education and want to make public school funding a priority.

The Republican leadership had the revenue available in 2013 but simply didn’t want to give it to public schools. Their actions gave an edge to private schools in the newly created marketplace of schools in which public and private schools compete.

It is as if they are telling parents: If you don’t like the cutbacks or class sizes at your child’s public school, just pick a private school.

Glenda Ritz has called for a 3% funding increase, far better than the 1% of the current year. We need to elect legislators who back her call to put a priority on funding for public schools.

Defense #1: “Indiana passed the largest budget in the history of Indiana for education two years ago.”

This was a quote from Representative Tim Brown, Chairman of the House Ways and Means at a legislative breakfast reported by the Montgomery County Journal Review in an online article by Bob Cox posted on October 20th.

This statement sounds good, but think about it for a moment.

In years prior to the Great Recession, the public school budget was the largest in Indiana history every time. That was hardly news because the public schools needed at least a cost of living increase each year.

Then came the Great Recession and the state of Indiana could not fund the budget promised to the schools in June of 2009. In December of 2009, the school budget was cut by $300 million.

Here is the budget history for Indiana for education for the last ten years, which I copied right off the school funding formula summary page for each budget:

2005 BUDGET:
FY 2006..................................$5.94 Billion
FY 2007..................................$6.02 Billion
2007 BUDGET:
FY 2008..................................$6.27 Billion
FY 2009..................................$6.48 Billion *
2009 BUDGET: (June 2009 during the Great Recession)
FY 2010..................................$6.55 Billion **
FY 2011..................................$6.57 Billion **
2011 BUDGET: (April 2011 during the Great Recession)
FY 2012..................................$6.28 Billion
FY 2013..................................$6.34 Billion ***
2013 BUDGET:
FY 2014..................................$6.62 Billion +2.0%
FY 2015..................................$6.69 Billion +1.0%
*included Federal stimulus/stabilization funding of $.61 Billion
**reduced by $.30 Billion in Dec. 2009 due to revenue shortfall and by $.327 Billion during 2010-11
***adding the full day kindergarten line item to the formula during the 2013 General Assembly raised the actual FY2013 base expenditures to $6.49B.

Of course, Representative Brown is correct in saying the last budget was the highest in history. The $6.69 Billion for the current 2014-15 school year was indeed higher than the $6.57 Billion budgeted for 2010-11 which never happened. That budget was the one cut by $300 million in December 2009, and it took until the 2013 budget to finally surpass $6.57 Billion.

Legislators had the revenue, though, to do so much more for public school funding in 2013. They could have given public schools more than a 1% increase. They could have given them at least a cost of living increase, but they didn’t.

Any claims to the historical greatest of the last education budget should be put into the context of these numbers showing a paltry 1% increase.

Defense #2: “Most of the increase has been directed to administration of the schools. We seem to be adding administrators instead of passing the money to teachers and students.”

This was a quote from Senator Phil Boots in the same October 20th article. Senator Boots is running for reelection against Bob Burkett in Senate District 23. Then he added: “I think we will be looking at ways to better control allocation of state education funds.”

Senator Boots, who turned from hero to goat in the eyes of public school advocates by switching his 2011 no vote on vouchers to a yes vote on voucher expansion in 2013, is resorting to the “Dollars to the Classroom” arguments pioneered by Governor Daniels in 2006. This ploy was used make it look like the spending decisions of local administrators were the problem rather than the lack of state funding. If they would only restrict their spending to classroom dollars, there would be enough, Governor Daniels kept saying.

There is no evidence for the assertions of Senator Boots that local school officials are spending poorly. Representative Brown at the same meeting was quoted to say, “a recent study from Ball State University suggested the increase was directed by local school boards to administrators and not into the classroom.” This claim put Ball State professor and former IAPSS executive director John Ellis into action. He knew that no one at Ball State had even read such information, let alone conducted a study. His complaint resulted in a correction being posted that this information came from a study by Al Hubbard, not by Ball State.

Al Hubbard is a strong supporter of vouchers and school privatization.

The “Dollars to the Classroom” ploy is being used by at least two candidates in southern Indiana who are running their first campaigns. What else do you say to parents when you don’t want to say you support more money for public education?

Republican Holli Sullivan, an incumbent appointed mid-term to House District 78, is running against Democrat Stephen Melcher on the platform of “Dollars to the Classroom.”

Also, Erin Houchin, running against incumbent Senator Richard Young in Senate District 47, says on her Facebook page that she will “invest in education by directing more dollars to the classroom.” By using this phrase, she is saying she does not think the budgets for public schools are too small, but rather the schools are misdirecting the funding.

Try telling the cash-strapped districts of Washington, Harrison, Orange, Crawford and Perry County in Senate District 47 that they have enough money but they are just spending it on the wrong things.

The “Dollars to the Classroom” program of Governor Daniels was narrowly passed into law in 2006 and resulted in burdensome annual reports using a flawed system sorting all school expenditures into either classroom dollars or overhead dollars. Its flaws include listing payments for teacher pensions and for classroom construction as non-classroom overhead. Since 2006, the only use of this information has been for fodder during election campaigns.

Ironically, the whole purpose of the program was to second-guess the decisions of local school officials, contradicting Erin Houchin’s second point on her education agenda: “Maintain local control of our schools and curriculum.” If she is successful on her first point, local control will take another beating. This antagonism to local control is also found in Senator Boots’ quote above when he said: “I think we will be looking at ways to better control allocation of state education funds.”

This argument does not sit well with frustrated local school administrators who have been forced to cut programs to balance tight or declining budgets since 2009. It’s easy for Senator Boots to charge that local administrators are making poor spending decisions, and it is difficult for local administrators to refute the charge without getting into the weeds of complex budgets.

The fiendish aspect of the ploy for the supermajority is that they can pass the buck and get parents and voters to blame local administrators for public school budget cuts when in reality the fault lies squarely on the General Assembly putting a scant 1% increase into public schools this year, far less than the cost of living.

Voters should not be fooled by these flawed justifications for low public school funding. Voters should vote for candidates who most strongly and genuinely support public education.

Actively Support Public Education Candidates Now for the November 4th Election

The candidates in 51 House Districts who best support public education were detailed in “Vic’s Election Notes #21.” In 51 House races, public school advocates can make a difference.

The candidates in 15 Senate Districts who best support public education were detailed in “Vic’s Election Notes #22.” In 15 Senate races, public school advocates can make a difference.

If you need another copy of these lists, please feel free to email me.

I urge all public school advocates to do as much as they can to talk with neighbors, friends and colleagues in the last week of the campaign to lift the level of support for public education in the next General Assembly. The public school students of Indiana need your active support.

Thanks for working to support public education!

Best wishes,

Vic Smith

There is no link between “Vic’s Election Notes on Education” and any organization. Please contact me at to add an email address or to remove an address from the distribution list.

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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