Thursday, November 24, 2016

Vic’s Statehouse Notes #267 – November 23, 2016

Dear Friends,

Death by a thousand cuts.

That is the likely future for public education unless public education advocates are willing to rally to defend it vigorously against two proposals in the weeks and months ahead.

The November 8th general election has left public education under severe threat from those who would diminish and dismantle it at both the state and federal level. The defense should begin now by talking with members of the General Assembly and with members of Congress.

At the state level, the expensive proposal called Education Savings Accounts which would give state funding for the first time to unregulated home schools and would give a financial incentive for parents to leave the public schools will go forward, most likely as a part of the budget and touted incorrectly as a way to save money. It was sponsored in the 2016 short session by Ways and Means Chair Dr. Tim Brown in the House and by Senator Jeff Raatz in the Senate.

At the federal level, Donald Trump’s proposal to shift $20 billion from current federal education funding, presumably from Title 1 reading programs for low income students, to pay for private school tuition will go forward. He detailed his proposal in a speech in Cleveland on September 8th. His choice today of Betsy DeVos as Secretary of Education, well known as a critic of public education and as a wealthy promoter of private school vouchers, is aligned with his stated plan to give public money for private school tuition in all 50 states.

The concept of public education is now in direct jeopardy both in Indiana and at the federal level.

In Indiana’s bicentennial year, the privatizers won the election.

Will Public Education Survive in Indiana?

The irony that these attacks on public education in Indiana are continuing during Indiana’s bicentennial year is astounding. It is as if we are celebrating our past with no awareness of how much of our success as a state can be attributed to our hard won battles to bring a strong public education to all.

Progress in Indiana can be directly linked to public education efforts written into our first Constitution in 1816 and strengthened in our second 1851 Constitution after public education advocates led by Caleb Mills gained influence in the 1840’s. Caleb Mills was the founder of Wabash College in Crawfordsville which ironically is now represented in the House by Representative Brown, the sponsor of the program to dismantle public education called Education Savings Accounts. Caleb Mills believed that public education serving all children and paid for by taxpayers should be both non-sectarian, so as not to offend the taxpayers who would balk at funding schools that are teaching a faith they could not support, and non-partisan, so as not to offend the taxpayers who would balk at funding schools that are teaching political views they could not support. This fundamental tenet of Caleb Mills held sway until 2011, when the voucher bill gave state funds for students to attend sectarian religious schools which can teach partisan points of view on public issues in line with their religion.

Now Dr. Brown’s plan to establish Education Savings Accounts would have taxpayers pay for totally unregulated home schools or any unregulated private school. The requirements of the voucher program to take state tests and comply with state letter grade requirements would be not be applied to home schools, but they would still get state money with no obligations or accountability.

To pass this extreme proposal would be to say that even though teachers can’t be trusted to teach without having the state require student test scores and extensive criminal background checks to monitor them, home school parents can be trusted with no accountability checkups. It’s a recipe to further demean teachers in Indiana and worsen the teacher shortage.

Education Savings Accounts

The Education Savings Account proposal being pushed by Chairman Brown is a radical proposal. 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 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? Yet the current broken high stakes testing program in Indiana’s schools would give incentives to parents to take the money and get their kids away from oppressive tests. Perhaps setting up an overbearing testing program was part of a plan all along to unravel the entire public school system.
  • 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 the state test is included unless students are enrolled in a voucher school.
  • expand vouchers to more students. The ESA bill would give public money to families earning up to $97,000 for a family of four. 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 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. The ESA bill makes textbooks for private programs a taxpayer expense.
  • allow parents to divert money intended for K-12 education to their 529 college fund. Parents who can afford to pay for their current private school have an incentive to enroll in the program, take the money intended for K-12 education and put it in a 529 college account instead.
  • give money to parents directly without strong fraud protection. The ESA bill has a weak section of fraud consequences for a “participating entity”, 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 taking K-12 money. Background checks are being expanded for public school teachers but this bill would give public money to parents without comparable background checks. Can all parents be trusted without background checks?
The Education Savings Account proposal brings to life Milton Friedman’s plan to end public education and give tax money directly to parents to educate their children. The scheme has gaping holes which must be brought to the attention of Indiana legislators as soon as possible.

One of the holes is the extra fiscal cost to the state when home school students who do not currently get any state payments are included in the state budget. If the estimate of 20,000 home school students is accurate and parents get on average $5000 on a debit card for each student, the program would cost Indiana taxpayers $100 million dollars per year, far more than current costs for pre-school ($10 million), summer school ($18 million) or even for state testing ($45 million). While those who take the incentive to leave the public schools would reduce the $100 million price tag by some amount based on the difference between the current amount per student given to the school district and the somewhat smaller amount given to parents on the debit card, the huge new cost of paying for home school students is clear.

Fortunately, State Superintendent-Elect Jennifer McCormick told the ICPE members meeting in Indianapolis on August 27th that she opposes the Education Savings Account proposal because it would take money from public schools. Based on this, she should be an ally in your efforts to defeat this proposal, even though the main sponsor of this proposal is the Institute for Quality Education which was Jennifer McCormick’s main financial backer in the election. We will soon see where she stands.

Will Public Education Survive in the United States?

Donald Trump’s plan to mandate private school vouchers to students in all 50 states would be the biggest federal intrusion into state education policy in US history. In a September 8th speech in Cleveland, Donald Trump said he would use the power of the Presidency to have all 50 states use public tax money to pay for private and religious school tuition. He said it would cost $20 billion in federal dollars and $110 billion in state dollars.

At this point, 20 states have completely resisted entwining church and state and completely avoided using public dollars for private and religious schools. They have very good reasons to resist. Of the other 30 states, some have very limited programs for special education students.

Under Article 10 of the US Constitution, education matters should be left to the states. Now Donald Trump wants to ignore Article 10 and push a federal mandate for private school vouchers in the name of school choice.

Does America want Donald Trump to dismantle public education in the United States?

I think not.

Donald Trump’s voucher program was nearly ignored during the campaign and certainly the voters did not give him a mandate to end public education based on one overlooked speech.

From its roots in the 1830’s, public education has brought the United States to a position of world power with its system of non-sectarian, non-partisan, publicly funded schools supervised by school boards elected following the rules of democracy and pledged to transparent public access and accountability in their records.

Now Donald Trump wants to spend billions in federal dollars to pay for tuition at sectarian and potentially partisan schools that are not run by elected officials and do not have to offer public access to records. In Betsy DeVos, he has chosen a well known advocate for private school vouchers to lead his side of this coming fight. The battle lines are drawn.

Tell members of Congress that you oppose Donald Trump’s plan and that you strongly oppose public money from any source paying for private and religious school vouchers.

What Can Public Education Advocates Do?

Many areas have meetings with members of the General Assembly and with members of Congress about upcoming legislative sessions. Start talking with elected leaders now about your opposition to Education Savings Accounts and to the federal intrusion of mandated vouchers.

This is a radical set of proposals. Let legislators know how they would damage the heart of our communities—our public schools.

Then join the Indiana Coalition for Public Education to support ICPE lobbyist Joel Hand as he works in support of public education in the Indiana General Assembly and against all proposals that would damage public education such as Education Savings Accounts. ICPE needs your support!

Thank you for your dedicated support of 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 will represent ICPE in the new budget session which begins January 4, 2017. 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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