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Vic’s Statehouse Notes #284 – March 10, 2017

Dear Friends,

House Bill 1004, the pre-kindergarten expansion bill, would create yet another pathway for students to receive a K-12 private school voucher.  HB 1004 would be the biggest expansion of K-12 vouchers since 2013.

The hearing on HB 1004 was held last Wednesday March 8th, and the committee vote on the bill will be on Wednesday March 15th.  Please contact members of the Senate Education Committee before March 15th to say you oppose HB 1004 unless the expansion K-12 vouchers is removed from the bill.

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

From Seven Pathways to Eight:  Yet Another Pathway for K-12 Vouchers Would Be Created by HB 1004

Indiana currently has seven pathways to K-12 vouchers, and HB 1004 would create number eight.

Under this bill and this new pathway, any student who gets a pre-K grant “at any time” will get a K-12 voucher as long as their family income meets a generous cap:  $89,900 for a family of four.

This is a higher income cap than for any other pathway except for that of disabled students.  Most pathways are capped at $67,400 for a family of four (150% of reduced lunch income).

Here are the other seven pathways and the number of vouchers they created in 2016-17, numbers found in the latest (Feb., 2017) report on vouchers recently released by the Indiana Department of Education:

Continuing Choice      25,020

Previous Choice              610

Previous SGO              2,330

Two-Semesters            2,828

Special Education        1,140

F School                          178

Sibling                           2,193


Total                            34,299


The report says that the voucher total (34,299) has gone up by only 1600 since the previous year (32,686). This is the smallest increase in the voucher program’s 6-year history (since 2011).  Yet the reported cost of the program went up by about $12 million, jumping from $134 million up to $146 million.  Despite the added costs to taxpayers, the number of private school students in Indiana actually went down by 316 students this year (2016-17) compared to last year (2015-16).

One would think that if taxpayers paid an additional $12 million this year for vouchers that the total enrollment in private schools would go up, but it did not go up.  Enrollment dropped by over 300 students.

How could this be?  How could private school voucher numbers and costs go up when fewer students are attending private schools?

The answer is that more students who have always gone to private schools are finding ways in the rules to get a voucher.  The new report provides data showing that 54.6% of all voucher students have never before attended a public school, up from 52.4% last year (2015-16).   

It is not about making a new choice.  It is about getting taxpayers to subsidize the private school tuition for a choice already made.

This is how our public education system in Indiana, a heritage of 180 years of work by those who came before us, is being privatized.

Now HB 1004 is trying to expand K-12 vouchers once again in a new way.   Rep. Behning’s bill would add “Pre-K Grant” as the eighth pathway that students could use to claim a voucher without ever trying a public school.  Governor Daniels when he established our voucher system said it should be set up to “try public schools first”, but Governor Pence threw his predecessor’s advice under the bus in 2013.

The eighth pathway would be an expensive addition to the pathways, perhaps as much as $10 million for new vouchers in the first year alone, according to the Legislative Services Agency. 

Ask the Senators to save taxpayer money by deleting the K-12 voucher expansion in HB 1004.

The Committee Hearing on HB 1004 – March 8, 2017

Last Wednesday, of 25 speakers who testified on HB 1004 during the two and a half hour hearing:

11 focused solely on the importance of expanding pre-K

10 spoke against linking pre-K grants with an expansion of K-12 vouchers

4 spoke in favor of linking pre-K grants with K-12 vouchers.

As you see, the position that we should break the link between pre-K grants and guaranteed K-12 vouchers was well represented.  There was great testimony given by parents from the community on this point.

The testimony made it clear how the Senators could refocus the bill solely to expand pre-kindergarten programs:

amend HB 1004 to delete Sections 21 and 22 that guarantee voucher eligibility for any student who ever received a pre-K grant “at any time” up to an income of $89,900 for a family of four.  These sections are only about K-12 voucher eligibility and are not needed to expand pre-K.

amend HB 1004 to undelete Section 18, language in current law that says:   “The receipt of a grant under the pilot program does not qualify, nor have an effect on the qualification or eligibility, of a child for a Choice Scholarship.”  Senator Kenley put this language in his 2014 bill that got pre-K started in Indiana.  Senator Kenley is a member of this Senate Education Committee.  His language should be preserved to focus HB 1004 on pre-K expansion rather than turning it into an argument about the privatization of our public schools.

Tell the Senators that with these changes, HB 1004 would become a good bill to expand pre-K.  Without these changes, HB 1004 should be defeated and pre-K expansion should be handled through Senate Bill 276 which the Senate has already passed and carries no link between expanding pre-K and expanding K-12 vouchers.

I urge you to contact your Senator and the Senators on the Senate Education Committee listed above this weekend or at least before the committee votes on Wednesday March 15th at 1:30pm.

We must not entwine a highly controversial expansion of the K-12 private school voucher program with the much needed pre-K program.

We must not make this important step for pre-school part of the march to privatize public education in Indiana.

Thank you for actively supporting public education in Indiana!


Best wishes,

Vic Smith

Vic’s Statehouse Notes
#281 – February 28, 2017 

Dear Friends,

The House has voted to tell our K-12 students that money isn’t there for them and school funding must be put back to the levels of the Great Recession.

On Monday (Feb. 27) the Indiana House passed a budget that gives a meager 1.1% increase for our K-12 students for next year, 2017-18.   A 1.1% increase matches the 2009-10 budget written in January 2009 in the deepest part of the Great Recession.  Also in 2012-13, later in the Great Recession, the K-12 increase was only 1.0%.

Now the supermajority is telling our K-12 students that 2017-18 gets 1.1% again, no better than the Great Recession.

Yet at the same time our public school students are being told that times are bleak, other parts of the budget contradict this pessimism:

The surplus will again exceed $2 billion.

The House budget added $7 million for more private school scholarships. Tax credits for private school tuition scholarships were lifted to $25 million for the two year budget, up from $18 million during the current biennium.

Virtual charter schools were treated generously, getting 100% of the state per pupil amount, instead of the 90% that they have been getting.

The House has let down our K-12 students, increasing total funding only 1.1% in the first year and 1.7% in the second year, figures adding $273 million in new money for K-12 in the two year budget.  This is less than what Governor Holcomb recommended ($280 million) and far less than what the 2015 budget added ($474 million).

After a three day break, the General Assembly will return Monday for the second half of the session when the Senate will consider the budget.  Public school advocates should contact Senators to make two points:

Tell them that they must do better than the House for our K-12 students.  A 1.1% increase is simply inadequate and will mean program cuts.

Tell them they should stop the expansion of private school support with tax dollars.  Tell them they can put $6 million back into the K-12 budget by freezing the School Scholarship Tax Credits for private school tuition.  Better yet, they can put $25 million back into the K-12 budget by canceling the School Scholarship tax credit program altogether, a program that duplicates what private school vouchers do already. 


School Funding

On the floor of the House in the budget debate, both Representatives Greg Porter and Vernon Smith pointed out that under the budget proposal, 201 of the 292 public school corporations will either lose money in 2017-18 or will receive less than 1%.

Chair of Ways and Means Representative Tim Brown responded by saying that his job is not to “protect school corporations but to protect school children.”  He said he is “agnostic” about corporations but he said the per-child funding goes up in this budget.

I took that as an invitation to look at the per-child funding in the House budget and discovered that it only goes up 0.6% in the first year and 1.4% in the second year, less than the increases for total funding cited above (1.1% and 1.7%).

These are meager increases for our students at a time when we are not in a recession.  Despite all that has been said, neither our K-12 students nor our school corporations have been given a priority in the budget.

Our Senators need to hear pointed messages about K-12 funding from parents, educators and community members. 

School Scholarships

Indiana really doesn’t need the School Scholarship program established in 2009 since the much bigger and better known Choice Scholarship (voucher) program was passed in 2011.

School Scholarships are given out to private school students for private school tuition by Scholarship Granting Organizations who get their money by taking donations and then authorizing the donors to take 50% of the donation as a credit off of their Indiana income tax.  In 2009-10, the first budget for the program was $2.5 million.  Private school advocates have grown the annual budget to $9.5 million in 2016-17.  Now the new House budget would boost the budget to $12.5 million in both years. 

That is a significant amount!  That’s $25 million for two years, more than we spend on Alternative Education and the Senator Ford Technology Fund when both are added together!

If the Senate would freeze the budget for School Scholarships at $9.5 million, the Senators would have another $6 million with which to boost the K-12 tuition support for all students.  If the Senate would start to roll back this privatization program, it would have even more to help the bottom line for K-12 support.

In 2015, the Senate froze the School Scholarship budget at $7.5 million, but the House pushed to raise it to the current levels.

Ask your Senator or any Senator to freeze or lower School Scholarships and use the money to restore better funding for all K-12 students.

Only the righteous indignation of parents, educators and community members can get the General Assembly to do better for our K-12 students and to stop the expansion of private school scholarships using public tax dollars.

Tell Senators that in the midst of a growing economy, they must do better than 1.1%.

Thanks for your advocacy for public education! 

Best wishes,

Vic Smith

Vic’s Statehouse Notes #280 – February 26, 2017  

Dear Friends,

Tomorrow (Monday, Feb. 27) the Indiana House will take a final third reading vote on a budget that puts funding for our school children back in the Great Recession.

The House budget (HB 1001) increases K-12 funding for next year only 1.1%.  This is the same low increase for schools passed in the 2009-10 budget and again in 2012-13 during the stress of the Great Recession.

For the second year of the biennium, the House budget proposal increases K-12 funding by 1.7%, well below the latest inflation rate which the Bureau of Labor Statistics says now stands at 2.5%.

Why is the House putting our student support back to the Great Recession?  Are we that bad off?

In the last two-year budget in 2015, K-12 funding increased 2.3% both years.  Increases for the past 20 years can be seen in the attachment to give you the full picture.  Look at the column labeled “Total Funding.”

Only the righteous indignation of parents, educators and community members can get House members to do better for our K-12 students.

Please contact your member of the House or any member of the House before the vote Monday afternoon to tell them that this budget is totally inadequate for our K-12 students.  Tell them in the midst of a growing economy, they must do better than 1.1%.

Don’t Be Fooled by the Numbers Game

What our K-12 students need is an increase in “Total Funding”.  As stated above, the current House budget would raise this only 2.8% (1.1% and 1.7%) over the two-year budget, compared to 4.6% (2.3% and 2.3%) in the current two-year budget passed in 2015.

Some members of the House have tried to focus on other measures to distract attention from the meager increases of 1.1% and 1.7%:

  • One House member used the “target revenue” line to tell constituents that the proposed budget was up 4.7% over the two years.  “Target revenue” is not what schools actually get.
  • Others have focused on the “Foundation” amount that all schools get, which is scheduled to go up by 5.4% over two years.  This figure ignores the “Complexity” amount that helps students of poverty and is being reduced by 15%.  “Foundation” plus “Complexity” equals “Regular Funding.”  “Regular Funding” plus funding for special education, honors and career education equals “Total Funding”, which should be everyone’s focus.

Eyes glaze over quickly when citing budget numbers, but there is a simple message here for House members:  They should do better than a 1.1% increase next year for our K-12 students!

Now is the time to speak up for better funding for our K-12 students.  Thanks for your advocacy for public education! 

Best wishes,

Vic Smith

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
#275 – February 12, 2017

Dear Friends,

If you are a voter, read this one right away.

The power of voters in Indiana is about to be reduced.  Our democracy faces another hit.

As a voter, you can speak out to retain your power (1) as the Senate votes Monday on Senate Bill 179 and (2) at a Tuesday hearing on House Bill 1005.  Both bills would remove from voters the power to elect the State Superintendent of Public Instruction.

Governor Holcomb wants the General Assembly to take away the power voters now have to elect the State Superintendent of Public Instruction and let him appoint a “secretary of education”.

I disagree.  Voters have had that power for 166 years since 1851, and voters should retain their current power to shape education policy in Indiana through electing this independent office.

Governor Holcomb wants the General Assembly to remove the residency requirement that the Indiana State Superintendent of Public Instruction be an Indiana resident for at least two years, opening the door to out-of-staters with no background in the history or development of Indiana’s schools.

I disagree.  The State Superintendent of Public Instruction should be a leader who knows Indiana   schools from personal experience.

Governor Holcomb wants the General Assembly to open up the position of State Superintendent of Public Instruction to anyone who will serve “at the pleasure of and at a salary determined by the governor”.  No qualifications are stated in HB 1005.   Teaching experience or teaching licenses are not mentioned.

I disagree.  The State Superintendent of Public Instruction should be a skilled and respected educator with experience in Indiana’s public schools.  Voters have seen to that for 166 years, but making the office an executive appointment could give us a Betsy DeVos-like candidate with no teaching experience.  That should not happen.  I say we should leave it to the voters!

If you disagree with Governor Holcomb and want to retain your power as a voter, prompt action is needed:

The Senate has scheduled SB 179 for Monday Feb. 13th (tomorrow) for a vote on Senator Kenley’s amendment to first allow an advisory statewide referendum of all voters on this question before an historic change of this magnitude is approved.  Contact any and all Senators before Monday at 1:30pm to say you support the referendum amendment and you oppose the bill taking power away from the voters.

Testimony for and against House Bill 1005 which would fulfill Governor Holcomb’s wish to appoint the State Superintendent will be heard in the House Education Committee this Tuesday, February 14, 2017 in the House Chamber.  The meeting begins at 8:30am.

If you oppose removing this part of our heritage from the control of voters, you have a chance to show up Tuesday to speak against the bill.

If you can’t get to the Statehouse Tuesday, I urge you to contact members of the House Education Committee about your opposition to HB 1005 before the Tuesday meeting.

The members of the House Education Committee are:

Republican Representatives Behning, Cook, Burton, Clere, DeVon, Jordan, Lucas, Thompson and Wesco

Democratic Representatives V. Smith, DeLaney, Errington and Klinker.


The 1851 Constitution Made the State Superintendent an Independent Office Elected by the Voters

Since 1851, voters have controlled who serves as the State Superintendent of Public Instruction.  The 1851 Constitution set the term of office as two years, and included the State Superintendent as a state official to be elected.  A constitutional amendment in 1970 took the office out of the Constitution and gave the power to the General Assembly to decide how the State Superintendent would be chosen.  The General Assembly at that time passed a law setting a four year term which first took effect with Harold Negley’s election in 1972.

Now in 2017, Governor Holcomb and Speaker Bosma, the sponsor of HB 1005, want to cut the voters out of the selection process.

If You Speak Against the Bill, You Will Not Be Alone

When this same concept was brought to the Senate Elections Committee on February 6, Senate Bill 179 passed 6-3, but it had the opposition of both Democratic Senator Tim Lanane, Senate Minority Leader and Republican Senator Dennis Kruse, chair of the Senate Education Committee.  In fact, the bill was routed through the Senate Elections Committee rather than the Senate Education Committee because of the opposition of Senator Kruse.

Senator Kruse was quoted in the Indianapolis Star (Feb. 7, page 1A): “I am a strong believer in the election of the superintendent.  I have been my whole life and will continue to be. I think it’s better to have the position elected than appointed.  I think it gives another voice to the people.”


For the people, however, to keep this voice, they are going to have to speak up promptly!

Voters Will Have to Speak Up for the Power of Voters

The power of voters is under attack here, and individual voters will need to speak out directly if they are going to turn this agenda around.  We have seen it time and time again in this election cycle.  People have turned out to express their positions.  Will they turn out to retain the power of voters in choosing Indiana’s State Superintendent?

First, contact your Senator or all Senators to support the referendum amendment to SB 179 when it comes up on second reading on Monday.

Second, if you have strong feelings about taking this power away from voters, come and testify on Tuesday in the House Chamber.  You can state your opposition in four sentences, but your presence would make a difference.   Nothing about the process is convenient, but that is way it is.  The meeting begins at 8:30 am.  To testify on House Bill 1005, you need to sign in before 8:30 after going through security at the east or west doors and then wait to be called in the meeting, which can often be a long time.

It depends on how offended you feel as a voter that after 166 years you will no longer have a say in the selection of the State Superintendent of Public Instruction.


Is anyone concerned about this diminishing power of voters in our democracy?

Of course, the Governor would like more power.  Is anyone concerned that there will be no checks and balances on the Governor’s policies on education from an independently elected State Superintendent?

The ongoing historic debate of the past forty years has been over privatization and whether public money should be given to private schools.  These bills to give the governor more power in this fundamental debate won’t take politics out of education as some have said but will only focus the historic privatization question on the governor’s race, which is also influenced by a myriad of other issues.  Education will get lost in the shuffle of election issues.


Is anyone concerned that the name will change under HB 1005 from “State Superintendent of Public Instruction” to “Secretary of Education”?  This is clearly a major step in the ongoing effort to unravel the long and proud heritage of public education in Indiana.

Here is your chance to stand up for your own power as a voter in our diminishing democracy!  Contact Senators about SB 179 on Monday.  Contact House members or come to the Statehouse on Tuesday regarding HB 1005 to speak up to retain the power that voters have had since 1851 to choose the State Superintendent.

Thanks for your dedicated support of public education!


Best wishes,

Vic Smith

Vic’s Statehouse Notes #270 – January 22, 2017


Dear Friends,

Betsy DeVos has been the most influential funder behind Indiana’s historic switch to giving public tax money to private and religious schools.

That is my conclusion after reading an informative article in the Indianapolis Star by Stephanie Wang and Chelsea Schneider entitled “Hoosier ties run deep for DeVos,” January 15, 2017, page 21A.  According to the authors, DeVos has provided $2.5 million since 2004 to Indiana politicians to support vouchers.  That paved the way to historic votes in 2009, 2011 and 2013 which step by step have privatized the school system in Indiana.  The entire article deserves your attention.

Now Betsy DeVos is Donald Trump’s choice to be Secretary of Education.

Those who agree with her efforts to privatize schools in Indiana support the choice.

Those like me who strongly oppose the choice believe that giving public money to private and religious schools will totally destroy the separation of church and state and will totally destroy the long tradition of non-partisan civic education for K-12 students. 

Funding religious schools will entwine religious controversies into every education issue, as we have already seen in the controversial RFRA law.  Funding private schools that teach partisan positions will create a partisan society that will threaten our democracy, as we already see in the hyperpartisan politics in Washington, DC.

I urge you to call Senator Donnelly and Senator Young by Tuesday (Jan. 24th) to ask them to oppose the nomination of Betsy DeVos.  See phone numbers below.

The Influence of Betsy DeVos in Indiana 

The research of the Indianapolis Star reporters in the article cited above is revealing:

Indiana’s campaign finance database shows that DeVos’s family and organizations have donated $2.5 million to Hoosier politicians in support of private school voucher policies since 2004, the year Mitch Daniels first ran for governor.

This total includes a $95,000 donation to Gov. Eric Holcomb’s campaign.  Now Gov. Holcomb has signed a letter of support for the DeVos nomination. 

Mrs. DeVos has donated another $1.7 million between 2012 and 2014 to non-profit groups in Indiana which support private school vouchers, such as the Institute for Quality Education led by Fred Klipsch.  Yes, you read that correctly:  $1.7 million

Her American Federation for Children Action Fund, a political action committee she funds devoted to private school vouchers has contributed $1.2 million to the PAC linked to the Institute for Quality Education.

The same Action Fund also spent $50,000 in TV ads to support Tony Bennett when he lost the election for State Superintendent in 2012.

 Quoting from the Star article:  “All Children Matter, a group once led by DeVos and started by her husband that is now under fire in Ohio for failing to pay a $5.3 million campaign finance fine, gave nearly $1.2 million to fund an Indiana chapter of All Children Matter.  The chapter was active in the state from 2004 to 2011, led by [Jim] Bopp and John Mutz….The group parceled out about $480,000 in contributions to Daniels and a number of state lawmakers, including Rep. Robert Behning and House Speaker Brian Bosma, who went on to be sponsors of Indiana’s voucher law.  Of the House committee that originated the voucher legislation, a majority of the Republican members had at one time received money from the DeVos group.” (Star, 1/15/17, p.22A)

Senator Todd Young is a member of the Senate Committee that will be voting on the nomination on Tuesday, and campaign finance reform groups have called on him “to recuse himself from voting on her nomination because he’s accepted contributions from DeVos.” (p.22A)

You can also call on Senator Young to recuse himself from voting because of these contributions.  You can call his office in Washington at 202/224-5623.

The Senate Committee Hearing on the DeVos Nomination on Tuesday, January 17, 2017, 5:30pm

Republican Senators, including Indiana Senator Young, had friendly questions for Betsy DeVos and Democratic Senators had tough questions at Tuesday’s hearing in the Senate Health, Education and Labor Committee.  Democratic Senators did not like the fact that she had not submitted the ethics review before the hearing and that the chair only allowed each Senator a five minute question time period with only one Republican and one Democrat to have an additional five minutes.  The Democrats had more questions that they could not ask.

The questions they did ask revealed why many are concerned about the qualifications of Mrs. DeVos to serve when she has never been a teacher, a principal or a superintendent. She has a degree in business and the closest ties to public education she could cite were that her mother taught in a public school and she once served as a mentor to Grand Rapids public school students.

Senator Franken (MN) asked about the controversy between measuring proficiency vs. measuring growth in accountability systems, and she seemed not to be aware of what he was talking about.

Senator Murphy (CT) seemed shocked when Mrs. DeVos did not agree with his statement that guns shouldn’t be in schools and when she said she would support Donald Trump if he wants to ban gun-free school zones as he said he would during the campaign.

She did not agree with Senator Kaine when he asked if she agreed that there should be equal accountability for all schools that receive federal funds, whether they are public, charter or private schools.

She did not dispute Senator Sanders (VT) when he said that campaign records show that she has given $200 million dollars to Republican candidates.

She did not agree with Senator Hassan (NH) when the Senator said that children such her own child with cerebral palsy should not have to sign over federal legal rights in order to get a private school voucher, as they do in Florida to get a McKay Scholarship.  Mrs. DeVos praised the Florida program.

Senator Alexander, chair of the committee, said that Mrs. DeVos has agreed to sign the ethics paperwork by Friday and if she does, he will take a committee vote on her nomination on Tuesday, January 24th.

I hope you will call our Senators by Tuesday to oppose the nomination of Betsy DeVos.  Call Senator Donnelly at 317/226-5555 (Indianapolis) or 812/425-5813 (Evansville) or 574/288-2780 (South Bend).

Senator Young’s Washington office is 202/224-5623.

Will the School Voucher Program of Donald Trump Undermine our Democracy?

The private school voucher debate is often framed as a money issue.  Public money that is diverted to private schools certainly means far less money is going to support the education of public school students.  In Indiana in 2015-16, $131 million was diverted from public schools to private schools, and certainly that money would have a made a positive difference to build new programs for public school students or to prevent cuts in programs for public school students.

Money, however, is not the biggest issue here.  This debate is about whether our democracy will continue.  Already, after watching the events of the 2016 elections, many observers have expressed concerns about the health of our democracy.

Here’s the point:  Private school vouchers will undermine our democracy in at least four ways.  If you analyze recent trends, you can see they have already done so:

We will segregate into religious enclavesPrivate schools are sectarian; Public schools are not. (In Indiana, 98% of private voucher schools are religious schools.)

Vouchers give an incentive for every religious group to use public tax money to set up their own religious enclave with their own school, leaving communities fragmented and making more complicated the democratic skills of listening to other points of view and learning to give and take.

We will have greater partisanship.  Public schools are politically non-partisan by law; Private schools, however, can be politically partisan.

Vouchers give public money to private schools that can indoctrinate partisan political attitudes into the minds of young children, unlike the non-partisan pro and con debate tradition that is fundamental to public education.  Engrained partisanship will begin in the early formative years, complicating the work of democracy which depends on a willingness to compromise.

Marketing will rule.  The competition for the approval of parents will put marketing above curriculum and instruction in the priorities of each school.

Vouchers force all public schools to put marketing as a new top priority. In the new world of school choice in a marketplace of schools, if parents do not know how good the school is, they won’t choose it.  We all know that in any marketplace, marketing and advertising can make all the difference and that even poor choices can be made to seem good by clever marketing.  Public schools must now push to the backseat their focus on sound curriculum and instruction while they put top priority on marketing and public images.

Civics will be neglected.  The competition for the approval of parents will force enormous attention only on the subjects used to grade schools in the mandated testing program: math and language arts.

Vouchers force all schools to put math and language arts as first priorities because those subjects are the basis for accountability letter grades which are the most visible marks by which parents judge and choose a school.  This has left citizen education, civics and non-partisan voter education as expendable items in the K-12 curriculum, a tragedy for our democracy which must teach every new generation the civic values and procedures of our democratic society.  Less attention to civics and citizenship has been well documented in Indiana, perhaps the most damaging way that the voucher movement is undermining our democracy.

Consider the prophetic statement of the former Wisconsin State Superintendent Herbert Grover back in the 1990’s when Wisconsin passed the first private school voucher program: 

"If you look closely, you can see the social fabric of America beginning to unravel. Private school vouchers permit us to fear one another, to surround ourselves with those who look and think like we do, and — in so doing — to abandon our commitment to pluralism and diversity."

The public schools of the United States have been a bedrock for democracy for 180 years since Horace Mann led the way.  This could end if the system is privatized.

Please call Senator Donnelly and Senator Young before Tuesday to let them know you strongly oppose the nomination of Betsy DeVos for Secretary of Education.

The numbers again: Call Senator Donnelly at 317/226-5555 (Indianapolis) or 812/425-5813 (Evansville) or 574/288-2780 (South Bend).

Senator Young’s Washington office is 202/224-5623.


Thank you for your dedicated support of public education!


Best wishes,

Vic Smith


Vic’s Statehouse Notes #269 – January 17, 2017

Dear Friends,

Governor Holcomb’s proposed budget bump for K-12 funding is disappointingly low. 

His budget was released on January 10th, one day after he called for a “world class education” for Hoosiers in his inaugural address at the state fairgrounds.  He is likely to say similar things tonight in his State of the State address.

His budget calls for an increase of 1% in the first year, a total increase of $70 million.  In dollars, the second year would match the $70 million and then add $140 million, a 2% increase over the first year.  Adding $70 million for the first year and then $210 million for the second year makes a total increase of $280 million, a figure featured on the front page of the Indianapolis Star.

While it sounds like a lot of money, it’s a figure that doesn’t even keep up with inflation in the first year and barely does so in the second year.

The latest annual inflation rate reported by the Bureau of Labor Statistics is 1.7%.  The 1% Holcomb proposal is far less than the cost of living increase and would not allow schools to even keep up current programs in 2017-18, let alone correct the teacher compensation problem that has left Indiana with a highly publicized teacher shortage.

Attached is the history of school funding in Indiana’s last nine budgets.  Comparing the Governor’s new proposal to this history shows that this is a weak opening proposal at a time when Indiana has a large surplus. 

It would appear that Governor Holcomb is not ready to fund a “world class education.”  We will hope that the House and Senate leaders can do better for public education in their budgets.

It is early in the budget process, and public school advocates need to ask members of the House and the Senate to at least match the 2.3% of the last budget cycle.  If legislators want to put a true priority on supporting education, ask them to extend that support to a 3% funding increase each year.

Comparisons to the 2015 Budget

In the 2015 two-year budget, the first year increase was $157 million and the second year increase over that was $160 million.  Remember that to maintain the first year increase in the second year, $157 million in new money must be added in.  Therefore the two-year increase of new money in the 2015 budget was $157 million for the first year plus $157 million (to match the first year) plus $160 million for the second year, or a total of $474 million in new money.

It’s hard to see why we would do less after hearing all the recent reports about how well things are going in Indiana and how we are maintaining a large surplus.  Why would our public schools be thrown back into hard times and recession era cutbacks by giving them only a 1% increase?

It is time to call or email your legislators about strong funding for our public schools.  Start first with members of the House since the House budget is completed first.  The Senate budget is usually unveiled in early April.  Let legislators know that the public schools of Indiana need strong and stable funding to implement the high standards that have been set.

For the full context of budget proposals, study the “Total Funding” column in the attached history of school funding increases which I have compiled over the last 18 years of Indiana budgets.

Thank you for your dedicated support of public education!

Best wishes,

Vic Smith

Vic’s Statehouse Notes
#268 – January 9, 2017  

Dear Friends,

At the first Senate Education Committee meeting of the 2017 Session on Wednesday January 4th, Senate Bill 30 was given a hearing.  Senate Bill 30 deserves strong support.

It provides that the Indiana Department of Education give information to Indiana school districts about the name of the school that each voucher student in the district transfers to.

This bill providing greater information received widespread support in the hearing.  ICPE lobbyist Joel Hand spoke in favor of the bill.  The lobbyist for the Institute for Quality Education, the group that supports private school vouchers, testified in favor of the bill as well.  Every group that testified favored the bill.

Senate Bill 30 will be voted on next Wednesday January 11th at the second meeting of the Senate Education Committee which begins at 1:30pm.  Before that time, let the members of the committee know that you stand in strong support of Senate Bill 30.

Senate Bill 30

The sponsor of Senate Bill 30 is Senator Eric Koch, who previously served in the House of Representatives until he ran for the Senate seat vacated by the retirement of Senator Steele.  Senate Bill 30 requires the Indiana Department of Education to provide two things to each public school district:

“(1) The name of each eligible school in which an eligible choice scholarship student who has legal settlement in the school corporation is enrolled; and (2) number of the eligible choice scholarship students who are enrolled in each eligible school for the current school year. 

This information would be very helpful to school districts as they work to meet the needs of all students who have legal settlement in their district.

Contact Senate Education Committee Members

Let your own Senator know that you support Senate Bill 30, as well as the members of the Senate Education Committee who will vote on this bill on Wednesday, January 11th.  Education Committee members this year are as follows:

Republican Senators Kruse (Chair), Raatz, Bassler, Crane, Freeman, Kenley, Leising, and Zay

Democratic Senators Melton, Mrvan and Stoops

One easy way to email each Senator is to go to the Indiana General Assembly website and click on Committees and then on Senate Education Committee.  You will then see small pictures of each committee member on the left.  When you click on each picture, a link to send the Senator an email will come up for you to paste a brief note to each saying that you support Senate Bill 30.

Thank you for your dedicated support of public education!

Best wishes,

Vic Smith