Tuesday, January 19, 2016

Vic’s Statehouse Notes #240 – January 19, 2016

Dear Friends,

Two bills have been filed that would create the biggest expansion of private school vouchers Indiana has ever seen. They would advance the privatization of our educational system in line with the plans of voucher-inventor Milton Friedman, who supported the abolishment of public education.

I didn’t think that the Republican supermajority would make a direct attack on public education in an election year, but it appears the Republican leadership is poised to push forward a radical new private school voucher plan. It would be the biggest voucher expansion since Governor Pence’s voucher plan costing taxpayers $40 million in new dollars and diverting $120 million from public schools was enacted in 2013.

House Bill 1311 and Senate Bill 397 have not been scheduled for a hearing yet, but they should be denounced now by all public school advocates to any and all legislators. HB 1311 is a voucher experiment for all students and SB 397 is a voucher experiment for special education students.

These new experiments with our school children would undermine funding and support for the public schools of Indiana, which after five years of school choice have still been chosen by 94% of all students and need the support of legislators, not another attack.

These damaging bills have been passed in some form in Arizona, Florida, Nevada, Mississippi and Tennessee, all states that perform below Indiana on the National Assessment of Educational Progress, the respected national measure known as “the nation’s report card.”

HB 1311 and Senate Bill 397 are right out of Milton Friedman’s plan to take public schools out of our society and leave education to a marketplace of private schools, all funded by the taxpayers but without government oversight.

Both bills are innocently labeled Education Savings Accounts. They give money directly to parents in the amount that the average child gets in their school district. Parents can then pay for private schools or “participating entities” including tutors or other private vendors.

The program is to be run by the Indiana Treasurer, not the Indiana Department of Education. HB 1311 even provides for the Treasurer to outsource the program to be run by a bank. Are they serious? This means they want to privatize management of the privatized voucher program!

It’s simply over the top.

Not all Republicans in Indiana agree with the Republican leaders bringing these radical bills forward to further privatize our schools. These bills should not be given a hearing. Only grassroots citizens talking to their legislators can stop these bills and the death spiral for public education. It is time to speak up!

The loss of funding and instability this would bring to public schools would obviously disrupt their ability to provide long-term quality programs for over one million Hoosier students.

House Bill 1311 – Education Savings Accounts for All Students

The complicated 28-page HB 1311 is sponsored by the powerful chair of the House Ways and Means Committee, Dr. Tim Brown, so it is clear the House leadership means business. The bill would:
  • expand vouchers to more students. HB 1311 would give public money to families earning up to $97,000 for a family of four. Using a sliding scale, families earning $97,000 would get a 70% voucher, far more than the 50% voucher now given to families earning $65,000 or less. Family income limits would disappear completely for special education students, giving even high income families taxpayer money for private schools. Currently for special education students, eligibility for taxpayer vouchers is capped at incomes of $85,000 for a family of four.
Indiana’s voucher program was pitched and passed in 2011 as a program to help low income families, but that rationale has now disappeared.
  • end accountability for many students. Parents could take their child out of any school and pay “a participating entity”, which may be an individual, a tutoring agency, a distance learning program, or a licensed occupational therapist approved by the Indiana Treasurer. No requirement to take ISTEP is included for those students who are not enrolled in a voucher school.
  • narrow and weaken the curriculum and remove many students from Indiana’s new standards. Parents getting the money only have to agree to provide an education in “reading, grammar, mathematics, social studies and science.” No music! No art! No physical education! No foreign language! No health! No vocational subjects! Who would think this bill would provide a good education?
  • pay textbook fees for private schools while public school parents get no help with textbooks. HB 1311 makes textbooks for private schools or private programs a taxpayer expense.
  • allow parents to divert money intended for K-12 education to their 529 college fund. This is an incentive for parents who can afford to pay for their current private school to enroll in the program, take the money intended for K-12 education and put it in a 529 college account instead.
  • leave the education money to be supervised by the parent without strong fraud protection. A weak section of fraud consequences for a “participating entity” that has “routinely failed”, but no mention is made of parents who neglect their duties or commit fraud with their child’s education money.
Senate Bill 397 – Education Savings Accounts for Special Education Students

SB 397 is sponsored by Senator Raatz, a first term Senator who formerly served as the principal of a Christian school. Students can already get vouchers to go to Christian schools. This bill would hurt enrollment at public schools and voucher schools alike by allowing the entire amount of public money for a special education student to be spent for “a tutor, another person, or an organization that has received a qualification certificate” from the IDOE, with no standards stated for receiving such qualification except for investigations of fraud, abuse, misdemeanors or felony convictions. The bill doesn’t even clearly say felony convictions will rule out the applicant. The bill would also:
  • expand taxpayer-funded vouchers to high income disabled students. Currently, families of disabled students with incomes up to $85,000 are eligible for vouchers. This bill takes off all income limits.
  • reduce accountability. Public money will be given to parents with no obligation for annual testing or evaluation.
  • narrow and weaken the curriculum. The same language as cited in HB 1311 appears in SB 397. Education is reduced to “reading, grammar, mathematics, social studies and science” for special education students. So much for special education students benefiting from the arts and from physical education!
  • leave the education money to be supervised by the parent without strong fraud protection. No penalties are listed when parents commit fraud with their child’s money. After “annual audits of a random sample” of accounts, authorities are only given power to “terminate a qualifying agreement based on noncompliance”. The bill says nothing about repaying taxpayer money that has been misspent or about criminal fraud. This bill is a recipe for fraud and would require an expensive Educational Bureau of Investigations to root out problems.
Perplexing Questions

The fact that these bills from other states are being given consideration by Republican leaders in the General Assembly raises troubling questions which you should ask your legislators:
1) Does this mean that the leadership of the supermajority no longer supports public education?

2) Does this new way of giving out vouchers mean they have given up on the current voucher program?

3) With Indiana schools in a crisis over ISTEP testing and assessment, do we really need to stop everything and take time for a battle over more vouchers with less accountability?
I urge you to communicate with your legislator or with all legislators to say that in this short session, they should concentrate on the complex problems surrounding ISTEP and the future changes needed in Indiana’s assessments.

Let them know that plunging Indiana into another all-out battle over privatizing our public schools would be damaging to all schools, including the private voucher schools that could well lose students to “participating entities” in the radical remake of our system envisioned by HB 1311 and SB 397.

Most legislators you may contact will probably not have heard of these bills and their details. You will need to inform them of their radical provisions. Help legislators understand that advancing these damaging bills could hurt the supermajority brand in an election year among teachers and parents who are already angry about the ISTEP problems.

HB 1311 and SB 397 should disappear from consideration while all efforts are focused on solving the complexities of Indiana’s assessment problems.

Milton Friedman, the inventor of private school vouchers, in a speech to state lawmakers at the American Legislative Exchange Council in 2006 answered his own question of “How do we get from where we are to where we want to be?” by saying “the ideal way would be to abolish the public school system and eliminate all the taxes that pay for it.” HB 1311 and SB 397 would help his plan to abolish public schools.

Thanks for speaking up now about these two unwanted experimental bills, and 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 ICPE lobbying efforts. As of July 1st, the start of our new membership year, it is time for all ICPE members to renew their membership.

Our lobbyist Joel Hand continues to represent ICPE during the 2016 short session. We need your memberships and your support to continue his work. We welcome 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 www.icpe2011.com 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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