Monday, March 7, 2016

Vic’s Statehouse Notes #256 – March 7, 2016

Dear Friends,

Unexpectedly, Senate Bill 334 to expand vouchers by allowing spring semester transfers to voucher schools was not called for a final concurrence vote today in the Senate.

Instead, the Senate withdrew the concurrence to House amendments, filed a dissent, and appointed Senate conferees for a conference committee.

Presumably, the conference committee on SB 334 will meet tomorrow, Tuesday, March 8th.

After a final version is approved by the conference committee, both the House and the Senate must vote on the final bill.

That means that all members of the House and of the Senate must vote on SB 334 one more time. Your messages of opposition to voucher expansion have made a difference and even more messages are now in order for both House and Senate members before the final votes are taken.

Let them know you oppose Senate Bill 334 because it wasn’t focused on drop out recovery, the stated purpose of the sponsors. Let them know you oppose a general expansion of undefined partial vouchers to promote spring semester transfers. Let them know the expansion of vouchers is the wrong bicentennial message to send to our public schools in 2016.

In addition, ask them about the new questions that have arisen about this poorly defined bill:

Two New Questions about Partial Vouchers and about Expelled Students

Two new questions have been raised about SB 334 that need to be fully answered before House and Senate members vote:

1) Why doesn’t SB 334 define what a partial-year voucher means? It simply says that applications for vouchers in the spring semester may be requested from September 2 to January 15.
  • Does that mean students must wait until the start of the spring semester to attend the voucher school?
  • Does that mean the taxpayers will pay exactly half of the full voucher amount for the spring semester?
  • Can students transfer earlier in the middle of the fall semester?
  • Can they get a taxpayer voucher for an earlier transfer prorated by the day?
  • Will voucher schools start advertising in the fall with messages like: “Did your student get assigned to the wrong teacher? Are you unhappy? Transfer to our voucher school.”
  • Will the State Board of Education or the Indiana Department of Education define this undefined partial voucher?
  • Since the bill gives no answers to these questions, shouldn’t a summer study committee define the parameters of a partial voucher?
2) Is SB 334 the first program that gives taxpayer money to help expelled students during the school year for which they are expelled?

Expulsions are for serious problems, including bringing guns or drugs to school or threatening the school. A state law says that expelled students as part of their penalty cannot be enrolled in another public school for the balance of the school year in which they were expelled. The sponsors of SB 334 said the bill was needed to help expelled students go to The Crossing, a private school that helps drop outs and expelled students.
  • Is SB 334 now going to provide public money for these students to transfer to a private school when the law says that they can’t transfer to another public school as part of their penalty? Is that wise policy?
  • Is this undermining the meaning of expulsion?
  • Will students expelled for the most serious offenses including gun violations or serious threats to the school be allowed to simply transfer to a private school with a voucher?
  • Should we not define the expulsion offenses for which taxpayer money should not be used when students are expelled for the most serious reasons?
You have a new opportunity to send a message to your Senator or to your House member that you oppose the expansion of the voucher school recruiting season to go four additional months and that opening the door for mid-year transfers is not wise public policy without clear definitions in the bill.

Your messages are making a difference. I heard a report today that one Senator has received an impressive number of messages opposing SB 334. Keep it up!

For your convenience, I will repeat the previous talking points, so you don’t have to look up previous Statehouse Notes!

Points of Opposition: Please share one or more of the new questions or these previous concerns with any and all legislators. Both the House and the Senate will vote one more time!
  • 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 have been 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.
Just let them know you are following their actions on SB 334 and that you oppose any expansion of private school vouchers. The length of your message is not as important as the number of messages Senators and House members receive.

Thanks for standing 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.


No comments: