Wednesday, March 2, 2016

Vic’s Statehouse Notes #253 – March 2, 2016

Dear Friends,

Today (March 2) on the floor of the House, Senate Bill 334 to expand vouchers by allowing spring semester transfers to voucher schools received no amendments related to voucher expansion. The final third reading vote to expand vouchers in the spring semester will be tomorrow, March 3rd.

The House is scheduled to begin at 9am tomorrow.

If you would like to express your opposition to the broad expansion of vouchers in Senate Bill 334, please ask your House member or other House members to vote NO before tomorrow’s vote.

The Debate Today on Amendments to SB 334

When SB 334 came up today for second reading amendments, Representative Behning offered an amendment to begin a fund to help teachers who need to get additional courses and degrees to comply with new rules for dual credit courses. This concept was in a bill which did not make it through the Senate. The amendment passed 87-3.

Minority Leader Pelath then immediately moved that the bill be recommitted to Ways and Means since the rules of the House have been interpreted to say that the creation of any new fund, even though it has no money in it, must be approved by Ways and Means. He said this rule was used to kill two bills sponsored by Democrats this session, and he made a strong case that the same rules should be applied here to send this bill to Ways and Means. His motion was strongly supported by Representatives Austin, Vernon Smith, DeLaney, Bauer, Forrestal and Porter, all speaking to the theme: Do the rules mean anything? His motion was opposed by Representatives Tim Brown, Torr, Lehman, and Frizzell. After a lengthy debate which might have killed the bill on procedural grounds, the roll call to recommit failed on a party line vote, 28-65.

Next Representative Porter offered an amendment to give up textbook tax credits of up to $100 to the parents of public school students. He pointed out that home school parents and private school parents already get a tax break for textbooks, but not public school parents. His amendment was defeated 27-65 on a party line vote.

Then Representative Vernon Smith offered an amendment to delete the voucher expansion elements of SB 334 and the proposed second special education count, but leaving in the section on background checks and confidentiality agreements. Representative DeVon opposed the amendment, saying the bill would help students who have “dropped out or been expelled” get help from The Crossing school in a second ADM count. He said The Crossing now has 28 schools and helps kids who truly need help. He said he has “three great public schools in his district” and all they need from him is to get out of their way, but the kids at The Crossing need help.

Representative Smith in response said the voucher program is hurting his community. He is trying to stop the bleeding from choice scholarships because it is hurting not helping his community. He said The Crossing is a “great program”, but public school corporations are already funding The Crossing.

Then he withdrew his amendment.

Editorially, I would note that the purpose of SB 334 was once again cited by the bill’s sponsor Representative DeVon as helping drop outs, but no language limits the bill to drop outs or expelled students. It will have a broad impact across the state as it is now written to allow mid-year transfers that have nothing to do with drop out recovery. It will expand the advertising, marketing and recruitment season to 10.5 months out of the school year instead of the current six months.

The points of opposition still hold. Please review them and send a message before tomorrow’s final vote:
  • Sponsors in both the Senate and the House said the bill would help a private school called The Crossing get funding to help drop outs, but the language of the bill says nothing about drop outs.
  • The bill should be amended to focus on helping drop outs instead of allowing a huge increase in midyear general voucher transfers, estimated by the Legislative Services Agency to cost $2.1 million per year.
  • This LSA estimate makes SB 334 the biggest voucher expansion since Governor Pence’s 2013 voucher expansion which ended up costing taxpayers $40 million extra dollars, according to the annual financial report on Choice scholarships.
  • The current window for private school voucher applications is March 1 to September 1. SB 334 would establish a new enrollment window from September 2 to January 15. This extension would mean that the marketing and recruitment competition between private schools and public schools would go on for 10.5 months instead of the current 6 months.
  • Private schools have always had to have a marketing program to gain enrollment, but marketing and recruiting is new to public schools since Indiana was transformed into a school choice marketplace in 2011. Now just like private schools, if public schools don’t recruit students, they won’t survive. A superb public school with superb teachers must still be marketed well to parents or it may falter in the competition for enrollment. SB 334 proposes to extend the intense competition by four and a half months.
  • Marketing and recruiting take money and staff time that public schools don’t have, but now they must find it. To compete, public schools have to take money from other important services to budget for marketing and recruiting. Currently, marketing is largely confined to spring and summer months. Once fall enrollments are in place, schools can pay full attention to instruction while marketing and recruitment take a back seat. Now SB 334 would extend the competitive marketing pressure all the way through January 15th.
  • SB 334 also removes a provision in current law that says if a voucher student leaves the voucher school for which the student was awarded a Choice scholarship, the student is responsible for the payment of any tuition required for the remainder of the school year. Removing this provision is moving backward on accountability to the taxpayer. If families make a bad choice, the result would be extra costs falling on the taxpayers.
  • Legislators should say no to ever- increasing voucher expansion. The ISTEP crisis and the transition to tougher standards deserve the full attention of our General Assembly and our school personnel, and not another battle over voucher expansion.
  • We don’t need a sweeping expansion of spring semester vouchers that will extend the advertising wars all year long that are currently confined to the summer recruiting period.
Take a moment to send a message to House members by the vote tomorrow and to Senators next week to oppose Senate Bill 334 unless it is amended to focus the bill on drop out recovery, the stated purpose of the sponsors. Tell them they should not expand vouchers generally to promote spring semester transfers.

Senate Bill 334 has been changed by the House, so if the bill is approved in the House this week, it will have to return to the Senate for a concurrence vote on the House version or else a conference committee to resolve the differences. It is not too early to send messages to your Senator about your opposition to the expansion of private school vouchers In SB 334. It has been announced that the session will be adjourned on March 10th, just eight days from today.

Let members of the House and the Senate know that you think the drumbeat for more and easier private school vouchers and less attention and support for public education has to stop.

The priority and publicity given to privatizing public education is taking us in the wrong direction and putting at risk in our bicentennial year our long heritage of public education in Indiana, the achievement of countless dedicated public servants.

Thank you for your willingness to stand up 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 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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