Monday, February 13, 2017

Vic’s Statehouse Notes #276 – February 13, 2017

Dear Friends,

Yet another attack on public education is coming at you.

This is in addition to (1) ending the power of voters to select the State Superintendent of Public Instruction and (2) using the pre-K program as a cover to vastly expand K-12 vouchers.

This new bill would start the process to end public education itself.

The Senate Education Committee will hold a hearing Wednesday afternoon (Feb. 15th) on SB 534 which puts in place Milton Friedman’s blueprint to end public education by giving public money directly to parents on a debit card.

This bill was first filed last year using the deceiving name “Educational Savings Accounts.” This year SB 534 is using the name “Special Education Scholarship Accounts”. It would fund a huge expansion of private school vouchers Indiana for special education and Section 504 students. It would advance the privatization of our educational system in line with the plans of voucher-inventor Milton Friedman, who supported the abolishment of public education.

It is a direct attack on public education. It pushes forward a radical new private school voucher plan. It would be the biggest voucher expansion since Governor Pence’s voucher expansion was enacted in 2013. In the fiscal note on SB 534, the non-partisan Legislative Services Agency has concluded that “the estimated increase in expenditures based on the current formula will be between $144 million and $206 million annually.”

This bill and this concept should be denounced by all public school advocates to any and all legislators, most immediately to the members of the Senate Education Committee before their meeting on Wednesday at 1:30pm in the Senate Chamber.

If you are offended enough by this bill to come speak against the bill yourself, please do so!

The members of the Senate Education Committee to contact are:
Republican Senators Kruse, Raatz, Bassler, Crane, Freeman, Kenley, Leising and Zay

Democratic Senators Melton, Mrvan and Stoops

SB 534 is a Voucher Experiment for Special Education Students

SB 534 is a radical experiment to give public money directly to parents as Milton Friedman wanted.

Using the same concept, HB 1591 has been filed in the House as an experiment for all students and all parents, carrying a fiscal price tag of $344 million to $366 million according to LSA.

These new experiments with our school children would undermine funding and support for the public schools of Indiana, which after five years of school choice have still been chosen by 92.5% of all students and need the support of legislators, not another attack.

Similar damaging bills have been passed in some form in Arizona, Florida, Nevada, Mississippi and Tennessee, all states that perform below Indiana on the National Assessment of Educational Progress, the respected national measure known as “the nation’s report card.”

Senate Bill 534 and House Bill 1591 are right out of Milton Friedman’s plan to take public schools out of our society and leave education to a marketplace of private schools, all funded by the taxpayers but without government oversight.

Both bills give money directly to parents in the amount that the average child gets in their school district. Parents can then pay for private schools or “approved educational services providers” including tutors or other private vendors.

The program is to be run by the Indiana Treasurer, not the Indiana Department of Education. SB 534 even provides for the Treasurer to outsource the program to be run by a bank. Unbelievably, this means they want to privatize management of the privatized voucher program!

It’s simply unacceptable and demoralizing to our hard-working public school teachers and administrators.

Not all Republicans in Indiana agree with the Republican leaders bringing these radical bills forward to further privatize our schools. These bills should not advance. Only grassroots citizens talking to their legislators can stop these bills and the death spiral for public education. It is time to speak up! The loss of funding and instability this would bring to public schools would obviously disrupt their ability to provide long-term quality programs for over one million Hoosier students.

Senate Bill 534 – Special Education Scholarship Account Program

SB 534 is sponsored by Senator Raatz, a first term Senator who formerly served as the principal of a Christian school. Students can already get vouchers to go to Christian schools. This bill would hurt enrollment at public schools and voucher schools alike by allowing the entire amount of public money for a special education student or a Section 504 student to be spent for “an approved educational services provider” which includes “a nonpublic school and a private tutor” with no standards stated for receiving IDOE approval and weak standards for provider fraud.

The bill specifies that approved providers will not be regulated. Thus, the bill wants to give out government money to private providers with absolutely no government control.

The bill would also:
  • reduce accountability. Approximately $6000 in public money will be given to parents of special education and Section 504 students with no requirement for annual testing or evaluation or accountability for student progress.
  • expand taxpayer-funded vouchers to high income families. SB 534 removes all income limits. Remember how Indiana’s voucher law was pitched and passed in 2011 as a program to help low income families? That rationale has disappeared. Currently, families of disabled students with incomes up to $89,900 are eligible for vouchers. This expansion contributes to the projected fiscal cost of $144 million to $206 million.
  • narrow and weaken the curriculum. Education is reduced to “reading, grammar, mathematics, social studies and science” for special education students. It is unacceptable to allow students to be educated under this program with no art, no music, no health, and no physical education. This reduction of the educational curriculum is hard to fathom.
  • pay textbook and computer fees for private schools while public school parents get no help with textbooks. SB 534 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.
  • allow the money to go to parents without strong fraud protection. No penalties are listed when parents commit fraud with their child’s money. After audits of a random sample of accounts, authorities are only given power to suspend or close an account. The bill says nothing about repaying taxpayer money that has been misspent or about fraud. This bill is a recipe for fraud and would require an expensive Educational Bureau of Investigations to root out problems.
  • allow parents to sign up for the money without criminal background checks. Teachers are under increased scrutiny for criminal background checks. If parents have a criminal record or a record of abuse or neglect, they should not be given $6000 on a debit card to educate their child. SB 534 does not address this crucial issue.

Troubling Questions

The fact that SB 534 is being given consideration by Republican leaders in the General Assembly raises troubling questions which you should ask your legislators:
1) Does this mean that those advancing SB 534 no longer support public education?

2) Does this new way of giving out vouchers mean they have given up on the current voucher program?

3) With Indiana schools in a crisis over ISTEP testing and assessment, do we really need to stop everything and take time for a battle over more vouchers with less accountability?
Let them know that plunging Indiana into another all-out battle over privatizing our public schools would be damaging to all schools, including the private voucher schools that could well lose students to “providers” in the radical remake of our system envisioned by SB 534 and HB 1591.

SB 534 and HB 1591 should disappear from consideration while all efforts are focused on solving the complexities of Indiana’s assessment problems and the teacher shortage.

Milton Friedman, the inventor of private school vouchers, in a speech to state lawmakers at the American Legislative Exchange Council in 2006 answered his own question of “How do we get from where we are to where we want to be?” by saying “the ideal way would be to abolish the public school system and eliminate all the taxes that pay for it.” SB 534 would help his plan to abolish public schools.

I urge you to contact Senators listed above on the Senate Education Committee by Wednesday afternoon (Feb. 15th) to tell them you strongly oppose Senate Bill 534.

Thanks for speaking up about this radical bill, and thanks for your advocacy 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 is again representing ICPE in the new budget session which began on January 3, 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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