Wednesday, March 11, 2015

Vic’s Statehouse Notes #207 – March 11, 2015

Dear Friends,

Yesterday (March 10th) a long public hearing was held by Senator Mishler’s Sub-Committee on School Funding. The budget bill passed by the House is now under review in the Senate. Many came to ask for a reversal in a major cut in complexity funding which would hurt low income students. I and others addressed voucher expansion.

The House budget would expand private school vouchers yet again in two ways:
1) The budget would expand Scholarship Granting Organization tax credit scholarships from $7.5 million to $12.5 million, with an escalator clause for automatic increases into the future. The obvious cost to taxpayers would be $5 million more each year for two years, but the hidden costs described below cost nearly $20 million last year. This little known program is the biggest factor in funding vouchers for private school students who have always been in private schools, which creates a huge new expense for taxpayers.

2) The $4800 cap on K-8 vouchers would be removed so that the state would pay whatever the full tuition costs for the private or parochial school. The LSA estimate said this would cost $3.8 million more per year.
Public school advocates should bring their opposition to both of these voucher expansion measures to the attention of the Senators on the Appropriations Committee and indeed to all Senators.

These efforts to expand taxpayer funded private and religious education for students who have always gone to private schools must be vigorously opposed in the Senate. Let the Senators know you oppose both of these expensive measures to expand vouchers when teacher professional development is still not being funded at all.

Expanding SGO Scholarships

The 2013 voucher expansion sparked a huge legislative battle, but when all was said and done, the biggest expansion giving vouchers to the most students who were already going to private schools came via provisions already in the 2011 voucher law. The annual financial report on Choice Scholarships issued on February 23, 2015 by the IDOE Office of School Finance gave the details:
  • New vouchers given out in 2014-15 totaled 10,524, bringing the grand total now to 29,148.
  • Nearly 80% (79.6%) of the 10,524 new vouchers went to students with no previous record of attending an Indiana public school, totaling 8379.
  • Only 20.4% of the new vouchers (2,145) went to students who transferred from public schools to private schools, the original purpose of the voucher program as it was sold to the General Assembly.
  • Of the 10,524 new vouchers, having a previous SGO scholarship was the pathway to get a new voucher for 5667 students, or 54%.
  • The three other pathways for voucher eligibility (siblings, F school, and special ed) only accounted for 46% of the new vouchers. Thus, getting an SGO scholarship is the biggest pathway to voucher eligibility.
  • Of the 8379 new voucher students who have always been in private schools, 4757 or 57% became eligible only because they received an SGO scholarship the previous year.
  • Multiplying the average voucher amount used by LSA ($4092) times the 4757 students with no record of attendance at an Indiana public school, the cost of private school students getting vouchers for the first time by this technique cost Indiana taxpayers $19.4 million in new tuition payments for private and parochial school attendance.
The picture is clear: Getting a scholarship from a Scholarship Granting Organization has become the biggest method to gaining eligibility for a Choice Scholarship. The law says eligibility for a choice scholarship (a voucher) is available to all students who had an SGO scholarship in the previous year. This has become an expensive provision in state law, allowing several thousand students who did not qualify for vouchers to get a voucher by getting an SGO scholarship and waiting a year.

Currently, over half (50.4%) of all voucher students have never attended an Indiana public school. Mitch Daniels policy was “Try public school first.” His policy has been jettisoned, and now through SGO scholarships, voucher proponents are trying to get every current private school student to be eligible for a voucher.

Income eligibility is higher for an SGO school scholarship than for a voucher. An SGO school scholarship can go to families at 200% of the income for reduced lunch, or about $85,000 for a family of four.

Now in this House budget, the SGO scholarship fund has been expanded from $7.5 million to $12.5 million, with an escalator clause to further expand automatically in the future if the cap is reached.

This must not happen. This is simply giving vouchers not to those low-income families who wanted to make a choice but to families who had already made the choice and now just want the taxpayers to pay for their child’s private or religious education.

Contact your legislators about the expansion of SGO scholarships. Tell them to hold the line and to resist expanding SGO funding any further, and certainly not with automatic increases into the future. Tell them this is the biggest path to vouchers for students who have always been in private schools.

Why is that a priority when many public school districts are being cut by a reduction in complexity funding?

If this voucher movement had started with a bill that said taxpayers would now pay $19.4 million in relief of private school parents paying for their child’s private school tuition, the bill would have had great resistance. The $19.4 figure after all is nearly twice the preschool funding that many are now advocating for. It is more than Indiana budgets each year for summer school ($18.36 million) and for gifted and talented programs ($12.5 million).

But now $19.4 million is only a part of the tab for vouchers, the part made possible by allowing students who have always gone to private schools to get an SGO scholarship one year and then get a voucher the next year. This is only going to get worse for the taxpayer until nearly all current private school students become the responsibility of taxpayers.

Write your legislators that taxpayers should not have to keep picking up the tab for students who have always gone to private schools!

Taking the Cap Off the Voucher Payments for Grades 1-8

The second voucher expansion in the House budget is to remove the $4800 cap on vouchers and have taxpayers pay the entire tuition for the private school. The Legislative Service Agency has reported in the fiscal note that 6,378 vouchers have been limited by the $4800 cap. If the cap is removed, LSA said that the cost is estimated to be $3.8 million next year.

If you divide the $3.8 million cost estimate by the 6,378 vouchers impacted, the result shows that each voucher would be worth an additional $595. This is money that presumably has previously been paid by the parent, and now it would be paid by the taxpayers.

It is a really nice thing for Governor Pence to want to give private school parents an extra $595, but public school parents have also asked for help for many years to pay for textbook rental. Many parents pay $200 per student for annual textbook rental, and for parents with several children, the totals add up fast.

Why should private school parents get a financial break when public school parents don’t?

This $3.8 million is a financial break for private school parents. Private schools won’t get additional funds via this money unless they raise their tuition.

What is to stop private schools from raising tuition to get more funding when they know that Indiana taxpayers are going to pay whatever they charge?

Nothing is in place to stop tuition increases.

Should this plan to remove the cap on voucher payments be accompanied by a plan to monitor and control tuition increases at private schools?

Yes, definitely.

Write your legislators that taxpayers should not have to pay for a blank check for private school tuition increases!

Contact Senators to Oppose Both Paths to Voucher Expansion

Senator Mishler chairs the Subcommittee on School Funding in the Senate. Republican members of his committee are Senator Charbonneau and Senator Eckerty. Democratic members are Senator Rogers and Senator Tallian. They were the one who listened to nearly four hours of testimony yesterday about school budget concerns.

My testimony yesterday opposing voucher expansion and on the need to expand total funding is attached.

Senators need to hear from you about your opposition to voucher expansion. Messages to the five Senators on the School Funding Subcommittee would be the best way to start.

Other Senators on the Appropriations Committee in addition to those on the subcommittee would be the next to contact: Senator Kenley, chair; Republican Senators Boots, Hershman, Miller, Waltz and Yoder and Democratic Senators Stoops and Taylor. Finally, contact your Senator or any other Senator about voucher opposition.

There is no bill to expand vouchers this session. Governor Pence’s push to expand vouchers is all being done in the budget bill, HB 1001. The budget has an enormous number of provisions in it, and the voucher provisions can sweep in unless the public makes it a major issue. That is where you come in.

Let them know you are watching and that you oppose vouchers. The two voucher proposals over two years would cost about $18 million, $5 million each year for SGO expansion and $3.8 million each year to remove the $4800 voucher cap. Ask the Senators to redirect that $18 million to help restore the cuts to low income complexity students.

Your messages opposing voucher expansion are vital. Thanks for your advocacy for public education!

Best wishes,

Vic Smith

“Vic’s Statehouse Notes” and ICPE received one of three Excellence in Media Awards presented by Delta Kappa Gamma Society International, an organization of over 85,000 women educators in seventeen countries. The award was presented on July 30, 2014 during the Delta Kappa Gamma International Convention held in Indianapolis. Thank you Delta Kappa Gamma!

ICPE has worked since 2011 to promote public education in the Statehouse and oppose the privatization of schools. We need your membership to help support the ICPE lobbying efforts. Joel Hand will again be our ICPE lobbyist in the Statehouse. 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 now.

We must raise additional funds for the 2015 session, which begins on January 6th. 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. In 2013 I was honored to receive a Distinguished Alumni Award from the IU School of Education, and in 2014 I was honored to be named to the Teacher Education Hall of Fame by the Association for Teacher Education – Indiana.


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