Wednesday, January 20, 2016

Vic’s Statehouse Notes #241 – January 20, 2016

Dear Friends,

The hard sell for educational savings accounts and the damaging bills SB 397 and HB 1311 is already on.

Today, as the Senate Education Committee discussed Senate Bill 93, Senator Kruse said he plans to recommend that SB 397 be turned into a summer study committee provision as an amendment next Wednesday to Senate Bill 93.

Joel Hand testifying for the Indiana Coalition for Public Education cited the damaging provisions of SB 397 (see below) and said that the concept should be defeated now without a summer study committee.

The lobbyist for the Institute for Quality Education, the well funded pro-voucher lobbying group, testified that “Educational savings accounts are the future of school choice in Indiana.” She called it a debit card for parents. She said that their Statehouse “Celebration” on Monday, January 25 will include a 10am panel about educational savings accounts, featuring a parent they are bringing in from Arizona and other “national experts.”

The January 25th program, sponsored by the Friedman Foundation for Education Choice and other well-financed pro-voucher groups including the Koch-sponsored Americans for Prosperity, includes Dr. Tim Brown on the panel, chair of the House Ways and Means Committee and the sponsor of HB 1311, which would provide educational savings accounts for all students (see below).

Money can be used to sell anything. These groups have all the money they need to market with great expertise their pro-voucher positions. The battle for the minds of legislators is on.

I urge all advocates for public education to participate in this battle using the talking points below and other thoughts after you check out these bills.

Let your legislators know that educational savings accounts will undermine and subvert the quality of our public schools. Share the talking points below with your legislators before the pro-voucher marketing machine convinces them to implement Milton Friedman’s plan to slowly abolish public education.

Senate Bill 397 – Education Savings Accounts for Special Education Students

SB 397 is sponsored by Senator Raatz. It 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 families. 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. Parents need only to agree to educate their disabled child in “reading, grammar, mathematics, social studies and science”. 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.
House Bill 1311 – Education Savings Accounts for All Students

The 28-page HB 1311 is sponsored by the chair of the House Ways and Means Committee, Dr. Tim Brown. 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.
Expanding vouchers should not be on Indiana’s agenda during the crisis of ISTEP testing and the transition to tougher standards. Urge your legislators to get priorities straight and to support public education in Indiana.

Thanks for speaking up now about these two voucher-expanding experimental bills!

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 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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