Sunday, September 18, 2016

Vic’s Election Notes on Education #37– September 17, 2016

Dear Friends,

[Note: There is no link between “Vic’s Election Notes on Education” and any organization.]


Have your heard of the proposal called Education Savings Accounts which would dismantle public education?

Between now and November 8th while candidates are listening, every public school advocate should ask every candidate for the Indiana General Assembly to go on record to oppose Educational Savings Accounts. Tell them that their opposition to ESA’s is necessary to get your vote.

Why? Educational Savings Accounts are the pernicious proposal first filed in bills during the 2016 legislative session which would lower standards and provide approximately $6000 on a debit card to any parent who signs an agreement to school their child in “reading, grammar, mathematics, social studies and science.” The bills provided no supervision of the way the $6000 is spent and no criminal background checks on the adults receiving the debit card money such as criminal background checks required for teachers.

These damaging bills, already passed in some form in Arizona, Florida, Nevada, Mississippi and Tennessee, are right out of Milton Friedman’s plan to end public schools and leave education to a marketplace of private schools, all funded by the taxpayers but without government oversight or transparency.

Now both Representative Behning (House Education Chair) and Senator Kruse (Senate Education Chair) have said in media reports that Educational Savings Accounts will be on their agendas in January in the new session.

Candidates listen to voters during the election campaign. They listen better now than at any other time in the electoral cycle. This is your time to bend their ear about Education Savings Accounts. Get them on record that they will oppose Education Savings Accounts.

Remind them that this is our bicentennial year when we are celebrating our public education heritage going back to the 1851 Constitution. This is not the time to undermine our public education system with this radical proposal called Education Savings Accounts.
[Please note: Indiana Code 3-14-1-17 says that government employees including public school employees may not “use the property of the employee’s government employer to” support the “election or defeat of a candidate” and may not distribute this message “on the government employer’s real property during regular working hours.” Ironically, the law does not prevent private school employees from using computers purchased with public voucher money to distribute campaign materials. Private schools now financed in part by public voucher dollars have retained all rights under Indiana’s voucher laws to engage in partisan political campaigns.]

Education Savings Accounts: House Bill 1311 filed in January 2016

The 28-page HB 1311 was sponsored by the powerful chair of the House Ways and Means Committee, Dr. Tim Brown, a member of the House leadership. It would:
  • give approximately $6000 on a debit card to any parent who signs a state agreement. This money would go directly to parents and would no longer go to school districts.
  • 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 would provide a good education?
  • 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 school.
  • expand vouchers to more students. HB 1311 would give public money to families earning up to $97,000 (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 vouchers is capped at incomes of $85,000 (family of four). Indiana’s voucher program was passed in 2011 as a program for low income families, but that rationale has now disappeared.
  • 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 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 money.
  • omit criminal background checks for parents to get the money. Background checks are being expanded for public school teachers but ESA’s would give public money to parents without comparable background checks.
Tell all legislative candidates during the fall campaign that you strongly oppose this radical plan!

Powerful Forces are Lobbying for Education Savings Accounts

A well-funded pro-voucher group called Hoosiers for Quality Education has strongly pushed Education Savings Accounts, starting with a Statehouse rally last January. Hoosiers for Quality Education for years has actively funded candidates during the election campaign to build their influence. They have given Jennifer McCormick $30,000 in her campaign for State Superintendent against Glenda Ritz. They have given donations to numerous other candidates for the General Assembly, which will give them access to legislators next January as they press for Education Savings Accounts, a measure their lobbyist last January called “the future of school choice in Indiana.”

Glenda Ritz has opposed this plan since it was unveiled last January. At the August 27th ICPE meeting In Indianapolis, she said she is “adamantly opposed” to Education Savings Accounts which would lead to the “total dismantlement of our public system.”

Jennifer McCormick also spoke at the August 27th ICPE meeting and for the first time spoke in opposition to ESA’s, saying that they would take money away from public school districts.

It is good to have both State Superintendent candidates on record against this damaging proposal, but they will not vote on the plan. We need to get all General Assembly candidates from both sides of the aisle on record against Education Savings Accounts during the campaign.

That’s where you come in.

As you talk with candidates and attend candidate forums, make sure they know what Education Savings Accounts are and how strongly you oppose this radical plan. To help you in this task, a one-page flyer of talking points against ESA’s is located here. Please share it with candidates as well as colleagues and friends of public education.

I urge all public school advocates to protect public education from the Milton Friedman voucher supporters and from Education Savings Accounts. Don’t let this issue get overlooked during this unprecedented election campaign.

Thanks for advocating in support of public education!

Best wishes,

Vic Smith

There is no link between “Vic’s Election Notes on Education” and any organization. Please contact me at to add an email address or to remove an address from the distribution list.

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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