Tuesday, May 1, 2018

Vic’s Statehouse Notes #321 – May 1, 2018

Dear Friends,

The Special Session of the Indiana General Assembly on May 14th has turned deeply controversial. Two pillars of public education are now at stake.

The Governor had recommended a non-controversial loan to the Muncie Public Schools in the Special Session, with the rest of the controversial House Bill 1315 to wait until the next session.

The leaders of the General Assembly announced on April 20th that they will ignore the Governor and resurrect the entire controversial House Bill 1315, and they will pass it with no amendments and no public testimony in a one day session on May 14th.

Take that.

HB 1315 was the most controversial education bill of the short session.
  • It would allow non-resident outsiders to serve on the Muncie school board and to vote on raising the school taxes of residents, an historic first for Indiana.
  • It would remove the protection of the bullying prevention law from Muncie students.
  • It would remove Muncie students from coverage by the law providing for instruction on child abuse and child sexual abuse.
These provisions are wrong. The bill fails the test of common sense. It must be amended.

The thought that it almost passed in this condition is disturbing. The thought that Ball State supports the bill in this condition is hard to understand. Ball State should ask for changes to follow all Indiana education laws in order to protect students or they should walk away from the plan.

Unfortunately, this controversy will no doubt be ignored in a busy election season unless public school advocates go into action by objecting to the bill forcefully to their legislators in the Indiana House and the Indiana Senate. The General Assembly leaders have the votes to ignore the Governor’s advice and do what they want, but will they regret stirring up such controversy in an election year?

That is up to you the voters and advocates.

Why Does House Bill 1315 Deserve Your Attention and Time?

Now that a month has passed since time ran out on House Bill 1315, the full extent of its experimental departure from two pillars of public education in Indiana has come into focus.

First it violates for the first time in the 180 years of Indiana public school history the requirement that every public school district should be run by a school board of district residents.

Second it violates for the first time the requirement that every public school district should follow the education laws of Indiana.

The Deconstruction of Public Education in Indiana: The Pillars Keep Falling

This bill is not just about Muncie and Gary. It represents two more steps in the drumbeat of steps to deconstruct the system of public education in Indiana.

House Bill 1315, debated in a short session without ever going through an education committee in either the House or the Senate, takes out not one but two long-standing pillars of public education in Indiana.

That is why it deserves the attention of all Hoosiers, not just those in Muncie and Gary.

Strong forces in the Indiana General Assembly favoring the privatization of our public schools have previously acted to demolish three pillars.
  • Pillar 1: Public money should not pay for private school scholarships. This pillar fell in 2009. For the first time public money was budgeted for private school scholarships through tax credits for donors to Scholarship Granting Organizations. Taxpayers will pay $12.5 million for this purpose in 2017-18.
  • Pillar 2: Public money should not go directly to private schools. This pillar fell in 2011. For the first time, the passage of the voucher law gave public money directly to private schools. Taxpayers will pay $153 million to private schools in 2017-18, according to the Indiana Department of Education.
  • Pillar 3: Voters should elect the State Superintendent of Public Instruction. This pillar fell in 2017, in the long session of the current General Assembly. A bill passed taking the power to select the State Superintendent of Public Instruction away from voters and giving the Governor the power to appoint a secretary of education after the 2020 election. The new law does not even directly require the appointee to have K-12 experience.
Now Pillars 4 and 5 are targeted on May 14th under the plan of Speaker Bosma and President Pro Tem Long.
  • Pillar 4: Every public school district should be run by a school board of district residents.
The bill would allow three school board members appointed by the Ball State board of trustees to be non-residents of the school district. It would also legally end the Gary school board in favor of a board of advisors with no pathway in law to return to having a school board.

Questions flow:
  • Will non-resident outsiders really be voting to raise the school taxes of Muncie residents?
  • Will residents resent having non-residents controlling their tax levies?
  • Will residents sue and turn this issue into an expensive legal battle for Ball State and for Indiana officials?
  • Will Gary residents really be left with no school board and no legal path to restoring their school board once the emergency manager has cleaned up the mismanagement issues that put Gary in financial trouble?
No real rationale has been offered for having non-resident outsiders on the Muncie school board except a statement by Representative Tim Brown, the bill’s author, that Ball State should be able to appoint David Letterman, Oprah Winfrey or Bill Gates to the school board.
  • Pillar 5: Every public school district should follow the education laws of Indiana.
Quoting from House Bill 1315: “the Muncie Community school corporation is subject only to the following IC 20 provisions:”, an unprecedented watershed statement followed by a list of 29 laws.

Such language has never been used for public school districts in Indiana. The bill calls it “flexibility”. It was likened in discussion of the bill to charter schools.

The list of 29 laws does not begin to capture the body of law that the General Assembly has passed in previous decades to protect students and help them achieve. Despite claims that this bill has been vetted, it deletes vital protections for Muncie students including (1) 20-30-5-5.5 bullying prevention and (2) 20-30-5-5.7 instruction on child abuse and child sexual abuse.

Students in the Muncie school district will lose the protections of the bullying prevention law and the child abuse instruction law.

With these glaring problems, passage of HB 1315 in one day with no amendments would just be wrong.

Tell legislators about this problem. They apparently haven’t heard from Speaker Bosma and President Pro Tem Long that the final language of HB 1315 that nearly passed will remove these laws protecting Muncie students and many other important laws.

Questions flow again:
  • Is the Muncie Community School district now to function like a charter school with a waiver from most education laws in Indiana?
  • Shouldn’t Muncie students be protected by the laws on bullying and requiring instruction on child abuse?
  • What laws will the students and schools of Muncie be able to ignore while the schools of Richmond, Anderson and New Castle still have to follow? Is that fair?
  • If it is deemed acceptable for Muncie students to be educated without regard to most Indiana education laws, why is it not acceptable for all public school districts to operate in the same way?
  • Is the Indiana General Assembly saying that the education laws of Indiana are no longer needed or wanted for a public school district to thrive?
This is an astounding claim to say that Muncie schools need only 29 of the hundreds of Indiana education laws to function under the control of Ball State.

While the General Assembly leaders have said this bill was vetted in the House and the Senate, the many questions about operating Muncie schools without regard to Indiana law were never reviewed by the education committees of either the House or the Senate, only the finance committees. That is not a proper review in a short session for a bill that brings into question the need for the entire list of education laws in Indiana.

What Can You Do?

This controversy will get little attention from the press during an important election season. Public school advocates need to speak up anyway.
  • Contact your Senator and your member of the House to let them know you oppose any public school district being run by non-resident board members and being untethered from state education laws that all other public school districts must follow, such as the bullying prevention law.
  • Since this is election season and candidates for the Indiana House and Indiana Senate are making many public appearances, ask them in their public forums whether they support the two precedents of (1) having non-resident outsiders serve on the Muncie school board who can vote on property tax levies for residents and (2) suspending state education laws in the Muncie public schools.
  • Share these concerns with friends and colleagues willing to contact their legislators before May 14th.
Public education will remain in jeopardy until candidates and voters in election campaigns make it clear that the deconstruction of our system of public education in Indiana and in the nation is unacceptable and is damaging to students and to our democracy.

Thank you for your active support of public education in these challenging times.

Keep doing what democracy needs!

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 www.icpe2011.com 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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