Wednesday, April 22, 2015

Vic's Statehouse Notes #217 – April 21, 2015

Dear Friends,

When the Religious Freedom Restoration Act was fixed to quell the national firestorm damaging Indiana's reputation, religious voucher schools were left out of the fix.

When the fix (Senate Bill 50) said that providers could not refuse service to citizens, religious schools were specifically deleted from the definition of "providers" covered by the fix.

The only entities exempted by the fix that also receive public tax dollars are religious schools that accept vouchers.

Does this mean that religious voucher schools that receive million of dollars in public tax money can legally deny services to students and families based on sexual orientation and gender identity when the few non-religious voucher schools cannot?

Governor Pence has asked for additional public money to go to private voucher schools by removing the $4800 cap on elementary school vouchers and by raising the budget for Scholarship Granting Organization tax credits for private school scholarships to $12.5 million each year. Governor Pence's expansion requests should be denied, especially under the current circumstances.

Expanding private school vouchers at any time is an unwise use of tax dollars and hurts public schools, but it would be particularly harmful to expand private school vouchers this year without a clear amendment specifying that religious schools that accept vouchers do not have a license to discriminate.

Let your legislators know that public schools do not discriminate and private schools taking public money must not discriminate either.

Senate Bill 50 – The Details

You remember the crisis. Speaker Bosma and President Pro Tem Long said on the Monday before Final Four weekend that RFRA needed to be clarified, and by Thursday of that week, Senate Bill 50 had been written, passed by both houses and signed by the Governor. The crisis was addressed. The Final Four and the difficult job of reputation restoration began. The state plans to spend $2 million (more than Indiana now spends on teacher professional development) with an out-of-state public relations firm to restore Indiana’s national and international image.

Have you read the hurriedly written Senate Bill 50? I was slow to read the bill, but when I did, it contained surprising language.

It adds language to the Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA) that begins:

"This chapter does not: (1) authorize a provider to refuse to offer or provide services, facilities, use of public accommodations, goods, employment, or housing to any member or members of the general public on the basis of race, color, religion, ancestry age, national origin, disability, sex, sexual orientation, gender identity, or United States military service;"

Then later it defines "provider" as: "one (1) or more individuals, partnerships, associations, organizations, limited liability companies, corporations, and other organized groups of persons. The term does not include: (1) A church or other nonprofit religious organization or society, including an affiliated school, that is exempt from federal income taxation"

Thus, churches and their affiliated schools are exempt from the fix. The full text is attached.

Should Entities Getting Tax Money Have a License to Discriminate?

Churches do not get tax money to run their operations, so their omission was expected.

Church schools, however, that choose to accept Choice Scholarships (vouchers) get millions of dollars from the Indiana treasury, approximately $110 million according to the latest financial report on vouchers issued by the Indiana Department of Education in February.

Leaving open the legal basis for religious schools to refuse to provide services when they are getting public money to provide those services is just wrong.

Should Religious Voucher Schools Be Excluded from the Fix When Non-Religious Non-Sectarian Voucher Schools are Not?

Senate Bill 50 puts voucher schools in two categories. Religiously affiliated schools are excluded from the fix and thus apparently retain legal standing to deny services under the law. Non-religious voucher schools under Senate Bill 50 are providers who must not deny services.

According to the listing of 314 private schools receiving state funding in the annual financial report on the voucher program issued by IDOE in February, 2015, 22 private schools are non-sectarian and 292 private schools are affiliated with a church. That the General Assembly would put these two groups in different legal categories regarding denial of services is both incredible and inappropriate.

The non-sectarian Todd Academy in Indianapolis should not be given a different legal standing from the church-affiliated St. Joan of Arc School in Indianapolis as regards providing services to the general public. The General Assembly needs to fix this.

Act Now

This is truly a confusing and intolerable situation about private voucher schools which must be clarified by the General Assembly and by Governor Pence. Given these new complications, voucher expansion and new expenditures for private school vouchers should be put on a moratorium until the General Assembly enacts a clarification.

Do religious voucher schools have a license to discriminate? We need to know either way. The General Assembly needs to fix the fix.

How is the $2 million dollar public relations firm going to paper over the fact that 292 religiously affiliated schools accepting over $110 million dollars in Indiana tax dollars can still deny services based on RFRA?

Let your legislators and Governor Pence know that any expansion for private school vouchers in the budget is a bad idea at any time, but it is absolutely wrong when religious schools that accept vouchers have the legal right to deny services under RFRA.

Only eight days remain in this session of the General Assembly. Legislators could fix the fix with an amendment, and they should. If this issue concerns you, contact legislators right away about allowing tax funded private voucher schools to deny services under the law.

Thanks for your strong 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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