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Vic’s Statehouse Notes #243 – January 31, 2016

Dear Friends,

At Thursday’s meeting of the Senate Appropriations Committee (Jan. 28th), Senate Bill 334 making private school vouchers available to begin in the spring semester for the first time, was amended to begin a year later, July 1, 2017.  The bill then passed 11-2. 

The amendment to move back the start date for a year removed the estimated fiscal cost of $2.1 million from the current year and put the multimillion dollars cost in the next budget cycle after the 2017 budget session.

As in the Senate Education hearing, the purpose of the bill stated by the Senator Yoder the sponsor and all testimony for the bill focused on helping one school get spring semester tuition for drop out recovery services.

The real question here is:  If the purpose is drop out recovery, why should the doors be swung open to allow all private voucher schools to recruit students to begin in the spring semester?  Is it good public policy to extend the competition for students for four more months, making school recruiting nearly a year-round activity?

I say no.

Senator Stoops stated in discussion with Senator Yoder that he would support a second reading amendment to narrow the language to fit the stated purpose of the bill, namely to allow spring semester help for drop outs in schools providing drop out services.

I urge you to contact your Senator or all Senators to support the concept expressed by Senator Stoops to narrow the language of the bill to help drop outs.  We don’t need a sweeping expansion of spring semester vouchers unleashing the advertising wars all year that are currently confined to the summer recruiting period.

Senate Bill 334 – Extending the Marketing and Recruiting Season from 6 Months to 10.5 Months

Senator Yoder presented this bill as a method of helping a private school called The Crossing get voucher money to support students during the spring semester who have been expelled or dropped out during the first semester.  He said The Crossing had 189 such students that needed tuition help last year for drop out recovery services.

The language of the bill, however, goes far beyond funding for drop outs to attend a private school.  In fact, there is no reference in the bill to providing help for drop outs or expelled students. 

Under current law, vouchers are available from March 1 to September 1 for the upcoming school year.  SB 334 would add a second window of applications from September 2 to January 15 to allow spring semester enrollments.

Under the so-called “reforms” of the past five year creating Indiana’s marketplace of school choice, marketing and recruitment are the fundamental pillars of successful schools.  The sophistication of marketing is growing.  A school might be a superb school with superb teachers, but if it is not marketed well to parents, it may falter in the competition for enrollment that is now the ultimate measure of school success.  And now, SB 334 proposes to extend the intense competition by four and a half months.

Community public schools in the past have not been staffed for this marketing competition.  Marketing budgets and marketing staff members have now become a necessary part of the public school arena just to stay competitive and to survive, even though public schools are criticized regularly by the legislative creators of this marketplace because public schools are supposed to devote all of their “dollars to the classroom”, and marketing dollars are not on the official list of expenditures that are considered “dollars to the classroom.”

Nevertheless, marketing is a must for all schools now.  Currently it is largely confined to spring and summer months.  Once fall enrollments begin, schools can pay attention to instruction while marketing and recruitment take a back seat.  Now Senator Yoder wants to up the marketing pressure to extend the competitive time period all the way through January 15th.  He has not made this clear as he presents the bill.  All he wants to talk about is helping drop outs.

Helping drop outs is a worthy goal and could be done without bill language that creates the biggest expansion of vouchers since the enormous 2013 expansion which drove the voucher program from a net money saver for the state to an outright additional expense of $40 million.

“Enough!”

The trend of ever-increasing voucher programs in Indiana is clear.  Public education advocates should say “Enough!” to voucher expansion. The crisis of assessment and the transition to tougher standards deserves the full attention of our General Assembly, and not another battle over voucher expansion.

A second reading amendment to narrow this bill to assist drop outs in the spring semester would be an excellent move.  I urge public school advocates to contact Senators on this point.  The Senate will vote on amendments to Senate Bill 334 as early tomorrow, Monday afternoon (Feb. 1st).  The final third reading vote on Senate Bill 334 could come on Tuesday or Wednesday.

The testimony provided by ICPE lobbyist Joel Hand to the Senate Appropriations Committee is attached for additional information on SB 334. 

Thanks for speaking up on this issue!  Thanks for your support of public education!

Best wishes,

Vic Smith      vic790@aol.com

 


Vic’s Statehouse Notes
#242 – January 25, 2016

Dear Friends,

A bill expanding private school vouchers to allow spring semester voucher transfers has passed the Senate Education Committee and is heading to the Senate Appropriations Committee early this week.

Senate Bill 334 sponsored by Senator Yoder would be the biggest expansion of private school vouchers since Governor Pence’s 2013 expansion and is estimated to cost taxpayers $2.1 million dollars per year according to the non-partisan Legislative Services Agency.

Indiana should not expand private school vouchers in this way.  All advocates for public education who oppose a further expansion of vouchers should contact the members of the Senate Appropriations Committee as well as their own Senator to oppose Senate Bill 334.

Senate Bill 334 – More than Helping Expelled Students

Senator Yoder presented this bill as a method of helping a private school called The Crossing get voucher money to support students during the spring semester who have been expelled during the first semester or who have otherwise dropped out.  He said The Crossing had 189 such students that needed tuition help last year for drop out recovery services.

The language of the bill, however, goes far beyond funding for drop outs to attend a private school.  In fact, there is no reference in the bill to providing help for drop outs or expelled students. 

SB 334 establishes a new window of voucher applications from September 2 to January 15 for the spring semester.  Current law allows voucher applications from March 1 to September 1 for the upcoming school year.

SB 334 also removes a provision in current law that says if a voucher student leaves the voucher school for which the student was awarded a Choice scholarship, the student is responsible for the payment of any tuition required for the remainder of the school year.  Removing this provision would allow Choice voucher students who are expelled from their private school to get a spring semester voucher to go to The Crossing.

ICPE lobbyist Joel Hand urged the committee to reject this broad expansion of private school vouchers in the spring semester, citing the LSA fiscal estimate that it would cost $2.1 million additional dollars if 1000 students signed up for a spring semester voucher, a conservative estimate.  Other public education groups opposed the bill as well.

Senator Mark Stoops voted against the bill, saying he would perhaps consider this more favorably if it spoke directly to funding drop outs and expelled students, but the current language doesn’t do that at all.  His was the only vote against the bill in the 9-1 committee vote.  The committee seemingly heard the plea to help drop outs without requiring language specific in the bill providing help for drop outs and expelled students.

Will the Senate Appropriations Committee Narrow the Focus to Helping Drop Outs?

In the past, the General Assembly has been reluctant to spend great amounts of money on drop outs and on students who have been expelled.  It would be highly unusual for the General Assembly to open up the budget during this short session to fund the extra money for spring semester vouchers.

Please contact members of the Senate Appropriations Committee to let them know you oppose this expansion of private school vouchers.  Senator Kenley chairs the committee.  Majority members include Senators Mishler, Boots, Charbonneau, Eckerty, Hershman, Pat Miller, Yoder and Zakas.  Minority members include Senators Tallian, Rogers, Stoops and Taylor.

As you contact members of the Senate Appropriations Committee, urge them to change the language of this bill to fund drop outs if that is their will, but don’t throw the doors open to a spring semester voucher transfer for all students.

Expanding vouchers in any way should not be on Indiana’s agenda during the crisis of ISTEP testing and the transition to tougher standards.  Urge your legislators to get priorities straight and focus their energies on supporting public education in Indiana.

Thanks for speaking up in support of public education!

Best wishes,

Vic Smith      vic790@aol.com

Vic’s Statehouse Notes #241 – January 20, 2016

Dear Friends,

The hard sell for educational savings accounts and the damaging bills SB 397 and HB 1311 is already on.

Today, as the Senate Education Committee discussed Senate Bill 93, Senator Kruse said he plans to recommend that SB 397 be turned into a summer study committee provision as an amendment next Wednesday to Senate Bill 93.

Joel Hand testifying for the Indiana Coalition for Public Education cited the damaging provisions of SB 397 (see below) and said that the concept should be defeated now without a summer study committee.

The lobbyist for the Institute for Quality Education, the well funded pro-voucher lobbying group, testified that “Educational savings accounts are the future of school choice in Indiana.”  She called it a debit card for parents.  She said that their Statehouse “Celebration” on Monday, January 25 will include a 10am panel about educational savings accounts, featuring a parent they are bringing in from Arizona and other “national experts.”

The January 25th program, sponsored by the Friedman Foundation for Education Choice and other well-financed pro-voucher groups including the Koch-sponsored Americans for Prosperity, includes Dr. Tim Brown on the panel, chair of the House Ways and Means Committee and the sponsor of HB 1311, which would provide educational savings accounts for all students (see below).

Money can be used to sell anything.  These groups have all the money they need to market with great expertise their pro-voucher positions.  The battle for the minds of legislators is on.

I urge all advocates for public education to participate in this battle using the talking points below and other thoughts after you check out these bills.

Let your legislators know that educational savings accounts will undermine and subvert the quality of our public schools.  Share the talking points below with your legislators before the pro-voucher marketing machine convinces them to implement Milton Friedman’s plan to slowly abolish public education.

Senate Bill 397 – Education Savings Accounts for Special Education Students

SB 397 is sponsored by Senator Raatz.  It would hurt enrollment at public schools and voucher schools alike by allowing the entire amount of public money for a special education student to be spent for “a tutor, another person, or an organization that has received a qualification certificate” from the IDOE, with no standards stated for receiving such qualification except for investigations of fraud, abuse, misdemeanors or felony convictions.  The bill doesn’t even clearly say felony convictions will rule out the applicant.  The bill would also:

expand taxpayer-funded vouchers to high income families.  Currently, families of disabled students with incomes up to $85,000 are eligible for vouchers.  This bill takes off all income limits.

reduce accountability.  Public money will be given to parents with no obligation for annual testing or evaluation.

narrow and weaken the curriculum. Parents need only to agree to educate their disabled child in “reading, grammar, mathematics, social studies and science”.  So much for special education students benefiting from the arts and from physical education!

leave the education money to be supervised by the parent without strong fraud protection.  No penalties are listed when parents commit fraud with their child’s money.  After “annual audits of a random sample” of accounts, authorities are only given power to “terminate a qualifying agreement based on noncompliance”.  The bill says nothing about repaying taxpayer money that has been misspent or about criminal fraud.  This bill is a recipe for fraud and would require an expensive Educational Bureau of Investigations to root out problems.

 

House Bill 1311 – Education Savings Accounts for All Students

The 28-page HB 1311 is sponsored by the chair of the House Ways and Means Committee, Dr. Tim Brown.  The bill would:

 expand vouchers to more students.  HB 1311 would give public money to families earning up to $97,000 for a 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 taxpayer vouchers is capped at incomes of $85,000 for a family of four.

Indiana’s voucher program was pitched and passed in 2011 as a program to help low income families, but that rationale has now disappeared.

 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 voucher school.

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 bill would provide a good education?

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 strong 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 education money.

Expanding vouchers should not be on Indiana’s agenda during the crisis of ISTEP testing and the transition to tougher standards.  Urge your legislators to get priorities straight and to support public education in Indiana.

Thanks for speaking up now about these two voucher-expanding experimental bills! 

Best wishes,

Vic Smith      vic790@aol.com

Vic’s Statehouse Notes #240 – January 19, 2016

Dear Friends,

Two bills have been filed that would create the biggest expansion of private school vouchers Indiana has ever seen.  They 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.

I didn’t think that the Republican supermajority would make a direct attack on public education in an election year, but it appears the Republican leadership is poised to push forward a radical new private school voucher plan.  It would be the biggest voucher expansion since Governor Pence’s voucher plan costing taxpayers $40 million in new dollars and diverting $120 million from public schools was enacted in 2013.

House Bill 1311 and Senate Bill 397 have not been scheduled for a hearing yet, but they should be denounced now by all public school advocates to any and all legislators.  HB 1311 is a voucher experiment for all students and SB 397 is a voucher experiment for special education students.

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 94% of all students and need the support of legislators, not another attack. 

These 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.”

HB 1311 and Senate Bill 397 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 are innocently labeled Education Savings Accounts.  They 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 “participating entities” including tutors or other private vendors.

The program is to be run by the Indiana Treasurer, not the Indiana Department of Education.  HB 1311 even provides for the Treasurer to outsource the program to be run by a bank.  Are they serious?  This means they want to privatize management of the privatized voucher program!

It’s simply over the top.

Not all Republicans in Indiana agree with the Republican leaders bringing these radical bills forward to further privatize our schools.  These bills should not be given a hearing.  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.

 

House Bill 1311 – Education Savings Accounts for All Students

The complicated 28-page HB 1311 is sponsored by the powerful chair of the House Ways and Means Committee, Dr. Tim Brown, so it is clear the House leadership means business.  The bill would:

expand vouchers to more students.  HB 1311 would give public money to families earning up to $97,000 for a 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 taxpayer vouchers is capped at incomes of $85,000 for a family of four.

Indiana’s voucher program was pitched and passed in 2011 as a program to help low income families, but that rationale has now disappeared.

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 voucher school.

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 bill would provide a good education?

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 strong 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 education money.

Senate Bill 397 – Education Savings Accounts for Special Education Students

SB 397 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 to be spent for “a tutor, another person, or an organization that has received a qualification certificate” from the IDOE, with no standards stated for receiving such qualification except for investigations of fraud, abuse, misdemeanors or felony convictions.  The bill doesn’t even clearly say felony convictions will rule out the applicant.  The bill would also:

expand taxpayer-funded vouchers to high income disabled students.  Currently, families of disabled students with incomes up to $85,000 are eligible for vouchers.  This bill takes off all income limits.

reduce accountability.  Public money will be given to parents with no obligation for annual testing or evaluation.

narrow and weaken the curriculum. The same language as cited in HB 1311 appears in SB 397.  Education is reduced to “reading, grammar, mathematics, social studies and science” for special education students.  So much for special education students benefiting from the arts and from physical education!

leave the education money to be supervised by the parent without strong fraud protection.  No penalties are listed when parents commit fraud with their child’s money.  After “annual audits of a random sample” of accounts, authorities are only given power to “terminate a qualifying agreement based on noncompliance”.  The bill says nothing about repaying taxpayer money that has been misspent or about criminal fraud.  This bill is a recipe for fraud and would require an expensive Educational Bureau of Investigations to root out problems.

Perplexing Questions

The fact that these bills from other states are being given consideration by Republican leaders in the General Assembly raises troubling questions which you should ask your legislators:

Does this mean that the leadership of the supermajority no longer supports public education?

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

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?

I urge you to communicate with your legislator or with all legislators to say that in this short session, they should concentrate on the complex problems surrounding ISTEP and the future changes needed in Indiana’s assessments. 

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 “participating entities” in the radical remake of our system envisioned by HB 1311 and SB 397.

Most legislators you may contact will probably not have heard of these bills and their details. You will need to inform them of their radical provisions.  Help legislators understand that advancing these damaging bills could hurt the supermajority brand in an election year among teachers and parents who are already angry about the ISTEP problems.

HB 1311 and SB 397 should disappear from consideration while all efforts are focused on solving the complexities of Indiana’s assessment problems.

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.”  HB 1311 and SB 397 would help his plan to abolish public schools.

Thanks for speaking up now about these two unwanted experimental bills, and thanks for your advocacy for public education!

Best wishes,

Vic Smith      vic790@aol.com


Vic’s Statehouse Notes
#239 – January 12, 2016

Dear Friends, 

On January 4th, Governor Pence and Republican leaders of both the House and the Senate announced their support for “hold harmless” bills to protect both teachers and schools from the negative effects of the transition to tougher ISTEP tests.  Governor Pence, Speaker Bosma and Senate President Pro Tem Long had committed this fall to protecting teacher compensation but had not committed to protecting school letter grades until January 4th.

Thus, the Republican leaders finally agreed with State Superintendent Ritz who called for “hold harmless” protections a year and a half ago both for teachers and for school letter grades.

Then on January 6th, with newly clarified bipartisan support, HB 1003 passed the House Education Committee unanimously removing any impact from the 2014-15 ISTEP transition year on teacher evaluations and teacher bonuses.

In the afternoon of the same day, SB 200 passed the Senate Education Committee 10-1 removing any impact of the 2014-15 ISTEP tests on A-F school letter grades.

Today January 12th, just six days later, HB 1003 passed the House on third reading 95-1, and SB 200 passed the Senate on third reading 48-1.

These bills are the right thing to do in the transition year to new standards and tougher tests.  Let your legislators know you support quick approval of both bills as each now moves to the other house.

House Bill 1003

Representative Behning, chair of the House Education Committee, unveiled the final language to protect teacher evaluations and teacher bonuses in Wednesday’s committee meeting (Jan. 6th).  State Superintendent Ritz was the first one to be called on for testimony, and she strongly supported the concept.

HB 1003 specifies that after state bonus money is distributed to school districts, it must be distributed to teachers within twenty days.

The bill passed the committee unanimously.

On second reading yesterday (Jan. 11), Representative Delaney tried to add an amendment to say that these discredited ISTEP scores should not be used to qualify new students to be eligible for vouchers because they live in a school attendance area of an F school.  His valiant effort went down to defeat on a party line vote, 27-68.

After approval today on a 95-1 vote, it now moves to the Senate Education Committee for consideration tomorrow, January 13th.

Hanging questions have been raised about HB 1003:  How complicated will it be to assess both the best set of test scores and the best school letter grade for each and every teacher, especially in large school districts?  Will it be possible to do this analysis and distribute the money in twenty days as the bill calls for?  Is the mandate to use test scores still in place for this transition year?

Despite the questions, the bill should pass quickly to allow teachers to get their overdue compensation.

Senate Bill 200

Senator Kruse, chair of the Senate Education Committee, presented his bill to hold harmless school letter grades at the first meeting of the committee Wednesday afternoon, January 6th.  Under the bill, a school’s letter grade “may not be lower than” the letter grade received in the previous 2013-14 school year.

Despite the strong bipartisan support, the bill was opposed in testimony by the Institute for Quality Education, a well-funded group that lobbies strongly for more private school vouchers.  They apparently prefer the plan to see the number of F schools skyrocket in this ISTEP crisis so that students living in the attendance areas of those F schools would automatically become eligible for a private school voucher, even if they have always been attending a private school.

The pro-voucher group opposed SB 200 even though the bill carries a new benefit for voucher schools, reducing the accountability levels for private schools participating in the voucher program.  Under current law in IC 20-51-4-9, if a voucher school gets a D or an F two years in a row, the consequences are that new voucher students can’t get a voucher to go to that school, although the students who have been going to the school may keep getting taxpayer-funded vouchers.  SB 200 changes this provision for this year, taking away the penalty for getting a D, saying “the department may not apply the consequences unless the school was placed in the lowest category or designation for the 2014-15 school year.”

It is expensive to taxpayers to pay for private school tuition, and the Institute for Quality Education would like to see those costs to taxpayers go even higher, while ignoring the poor quality of the 2014-15 ISTEP letter grade formula.  This marks the first time in my memory when Governor Pence and the Institute for Quality Education were not in mutual agreement on a major education bill.

Hanging questions have also been raised about SB 200:  Shouldn’t we have a two-year transition to new tests?  Shouldn’t those schools currently on the bubble for state intervention get extra consideration since it is not clear they truly deserve another F using this discredited ISTEP?

Senate Bill 200 reflects the bipartisan consensus that has been reached to prevent the transition to tougher standards and tests from lowering school letter grades in the wake of drastically lower passing rates approved by the State Board of Education for the new test.

Fast Track by January 19th

Representative Behning said on the floor of the House yesterday that an agreement has been made to fast track HB 1003 with a goal for passage in both houses and the Governor’s signature by January 19th.

When the General Assembly has the consensus and the will, it can take fast action to pass legislation.  Last spring, the bill to fix the RFRA legislation was written, passed and signed into law in about a three day span.  Fast action is needed on SB 200 and HB 1003 to get promised bonuses and compensation to teachers and to meet letter grade deadlines. 

Fast action was actually needed earlier on Organization Day in November, as some legislators had proposed.  If action to “hold harmless” had been taken then, no school reputations would have been sullied when preliminary grades were released and teachers would already have their bonus money.

That said, fast action is needed now, and you can help.  Let legislators know you support fast action on HB 1003 and SB 200.

Thank you for your advocacy for public education!

Best wishes,

Vic Smith      vic790@aol.com

Vic’s Statehouse Notes #238 – January 5, 2016

Dear Friends, 

I had nearly concluded that Governor Pence, Speaker Bosma and Senate President Pro Tem Long were using the crisis of plunging school letter grades caused by tougher ISTEP+ tests to make more students eligible for private school vouchers.

After all, they had pushed through a voucher expansion law in 2013 that gives students living in the attendance area of an F school eligibility for a private school voucher even if the students have always attended a private school.  Preliminary school letter grades printed in the Indianapolis Star on December 5th showed a potential leap in this ISTEP crisis from 84 F schools (4%) to 359 F schools (18%). 

Then the landscape completely changed yesterday (Jan. 4th), when Senator Kruse and the Republican leadership unveiled Senate Bill 200 and scheduled it for a hearing this Wednesday, January 6th, in the 1:30 pm Senate Education Committee meeting.

This bill deserves the support of all public school advocates.  Senate Bill 200 says a school’s letter grade “may not be lower than” the letter grade received in the previous 2013-14 school year. 

 

I urge you to send messages of support for Senate Bill 200 to your Senator and all Senators and also to members of the House, who will need to take quick action on the bill when it passes the Senate.  This bill needs to pass quickly in January to keep schools from being unfairly punished in the ISTEP crisis.

Two Issues 

There are two issues that could punish teachers and schools stemming from the transition to more rigorous academic standards and ISTEP tests: 

1) teacher compensation could be reduced due to the impact of lower ISTEP passing rates on teacher evaluations and on the formulas for performance bonuses; an

2) school letter grades could go down when lower ISTEP passing rates are calculated into the letter grade formula, a formula already rejected by the General Assembly in 2013 legislation but preserved until this final year by actions of Governor Pence’s appointees on the State Board of Education.

Governor Pence declared on Oct. 27th that that first issue should not happen, that teacher compensation should not be reduced because of the tougher standards and tests.  Speaker Bosma promised on Organization Day in November that fixing teacher bonuses in the ISTEP transition would be the first order of business in January, but he said revisions to A-F accountability “will take more time to weigh.” (Star, Nov. 18) 

Until yesterday, no promise had been made by Governor Pence, Speaker Bosma or President Pro Tem Long to protect school letter grades from the ISTEP changes, the second issue.

Now with Senate Bill 200, the Republican leaders have aligned themselves with State Superintendent Glenda Ritz, who has asked repeatedly for the past year and a half for changes that would hold schools harmless in the transition to tougher ISTEP tests. 

Damage Has Already Been Done to School Reputations

To protect schools from the lower passing rates of the ISTEP transition, the corrections should have been in place before preliminary letter grade results were issued for review by schools in late November.  No public announcements about letter grades were to be made until mid-January.  Instead, the Indianapolis Star received a summary of the preliminary results and published it on the front page on December 5th. 

The results of course showed lower grades than ever before.  This is an invalid result, but the general public has not followed the nuances, and when quick media stories simply say F schools have gone from 4% to 18%, as I saw on one TV report, the general public starts thinking there is something wrong with our schools.

Instead, as many can see now, the fault lies not with our schools but with our letter grade formula and our testing program.  Our schools are actually performing better than ever according to results of the highly respected National Assessment of Education Progress (NAEP) just released in late 2015. 

Support Senate Bill 200 and Senate Bill 4

I urge you to send overnight messages of support for Senate Bill 200 to members of the Senate Education Committee, to your Senator and to all Senators.  Then send a similar message to members of the House, since this bill needs to quickly move through the process and be signed into law in January. 

Senator Stoops has filed Senate Bill 4 which is similar to Senate Bill 200 and also deserves your support.  The main difference is that Senator Stoops is a Democrat in a Republican controlled Senate, so his bill will not get much attention.  He has worked hard to correct the looming unfair punishments to teachers and schools which have accompanied the ISTEP crisis, and you should let legislators know that you support Senate Bill 4 as well.

I urge all public school advocates to communicate with Governor Pence and with their legislators to say that transition year test scores should not penalize teachers in their performance bonuses and also should not penalize schools in their letter grades.  The status of both teachers and schools should be held harmless while new baseline test scores are reset.  Senate Bill 200 and Senate Bill 4 both serve this cause. 

Thank you for your advocacy for public education! 

Best wishes,

Vic Smith      vic790@aol.com


Vic’s Statehouse Notes #236 – November 12, 2015

Dear Friends,

This is a crucial moment in the history of education in Indiana.  Three developments are colliding:

1) The 2015 National Assessment scores recently announced have shown that Indiana schools have never performed better.

2) The new, more difficult ISTEP+ tests have produced some of the lowest pass rates ever seen since annual comparisons began in 1997.

3) Governor Pence faces a crucial decision about whether to punish Indiana schools with low letter grades due to the drop in pass rates during this transition to a more rigorous test.

Three historic story lines have converged to put Governor Pence’s education policies and the future of our teachers and schools in crisis mode.  Here are details about each story.

Story #1:  Student achievement has reached historically high levels in 2015.

  • According to the National Assessment of Educational Progressive, known as “the nation’s report card”, Indiana 4th and 8th graders have scored higher than ever in reading.  The federal NAEP testing program first reported Indiana scores in 1992, and the 2015 results for Indiana are the best ever.
  • In 2015, 75% of Indiana 4th graders passed the basic standard in reading, compared to 68% in the US as a whole.  On the proficient standard, 40% passed compared to a US mark of 35%. In 8th grade, 80% passed the basic standard compared to 75% nationally, and 37% passed the proficient standard compared to the national mark of 33%.
  • In math, the 2015 results for Indiana nearly matched the historically high marks set in 2013, and actually surpassed previous results on the proficient standard. On the basic standard, 89% of Indiana’s 4th graders passed compared to 81% in the US, and 50% passed the proficient standard compared to 39% nationally.  In 8th grade, 77% passed the basic standard compared to the US mark of 70%, and 39% passed the proficient standard compared to 32%.
  • These high marks have improved Indiana’s ranking among states to historic highs: 10th in 4th grade reading (up from 15th) and 16th in 8th grade reading (up from 27th).  In math, 4th graders remain 4th in the nation and 8th graders are now 11th (up from 19th).
  • The complete table showing all of Indiana’s NAEP results since 1990 can be seen in Table 6 in the report.  (Click here for summary charts only.) It is worth a look and a moment of celebration for great work by our students and educators!

Story #2:  The new ISTEP+ scores for 2014-15 show historically low passing rates due to the new cut scores just adopted for the more difficult ISTEP+ tests.  Ironically, these historically low results come in the same month as the historically high results on the national NAEP exam. 

  • In English, pass rates approved by the State Board on October 28th plunged by an average of 15% for grade 3-8 from the previous year (2013-14) in a year that NAEP declared to be a superb year of achievement in Indiana.
  • In math, pass rates dropped even more, by an average of 23% in grades 3-8 from the previous year.
  • The State Board approved adjusting cut scores to compensate for those taking ISTEP+ online, which has been found to be more difficult than paper and pencil tests.  These adjustments will bring pass rates up a bit, but the historic drop in pass rates remains clear.
  • To get the full impact of the enormous and historic drop in pass rates in this transition, take a moment to examine the pass rates for each grade level in Tables 7 and 8 in the report, (click here for summary charts only) which show complete ISTEP results for each grade level going back to the first year, 1997.  After reviewing these data, it is absolutely clear that this transition is unlike any year Indiana students and schools have ever experienced in this era of testing.
  • The new ISTEP+ results must be treated as a new baseline and must not be compared to the previous year.  Comparisons to the previous year are simply not fair.  Since A-F grades include comparisons to the previous year, they would not be fair.  Educators must make every effort to help the public and to help politicians understand this concept.

Story #3: With record setting high achievement on NAEP proving to all observers that the dip in ISTEP+ pass rates is due to a tougher new ISTEP+ test and not due to poor teaching or poor performance, Governor Pence has been put on the spot to reverse his opposition to a transition year “hold harmless” plan which would prevent penalties to teachers or to schools due to higher expectations and low pass rates.

  • Under pressure to prevent these low pass rates from harming teachers, Governor Pence announced with great fanfare a letter on October 27th sent to the State Board of Education saying that at his request “legislation is being crafted to ensure that test results will not negatively impact teacher evaluations or performance bonuses this year.”
  • His letter did not directly say that school letter grades would be protected in the same way.  The Indianapolis Star reported on November 12th (page 3A):  “The Republican governor also said this week his administration is exploring ways A-F accountability grades could be modified because of the scores.”
  • Legislative leaders did not leap to quickly endorse the Governor’s plan for legislation.  Indeed, some voucher-supporting legislative leaders wouldn’t mind seeing more schools get F’s because more students would then be eligible for private school vouchers in those F school attendance areas.
  • Representative Behning, chair of the House Education Committee, said in the same November 12th article in the Star regarding the A-F system:  “It would be my personal opinion that we don’t totally suspend it, but maybe  we have a position of where we minimize the amount of fall (a school) could have if they had a fall.”
  •  State Superintendent Ritz has called for a “hold harmless” policy for over a year, but the Governor’s State Board of Education members control the policies.  At one State Board meeting earlier this year, the Governor’s members curtly voted to take the subject off the agenda as the meeting opened to eliminate even a discussion of the problem.
  • Months ago, Secretary of Education Arne Duncan said that a one year pause in accountability due to the increase rigor of tests would be understandable to federal officials.
  • Dr. Gregory Cizek, a testing expert from North Caroline brought in by Representative Behning and Senator Kruse to the Interim Study Committee on Education on September 29, 2015, recommended that new tests should not used for accountability purposes for three years.

These three stories provide the context for three questions to be answered soon:

1) Will the General Assembly take action to protect teacher evaluations and teacher bonuses from the lower ISTEP+ passing scores, as the Governor has requested?

  • Action could be taken as early as Organization Day on November 17th as recommended in a proposal by State Senator Mark Stoops, described in the November 12th Star article.  He states that the “law requires the state to send performance pay to school districts before December 5.”
  • Representative Behning, according to the same November 12th article, “plans to introduce a proposal that he feels is consistent with what Pence has outlined—but to expect it when the legislature returns in January.”

2) Will the General Assembly take action on Organization Day or in January to protect schools from sharply lower school letter grades based on the lower ISTEP+ passing scores, as the Governor has hinted but not directly requested?

  • Many do not realize that the school letter grade formula to be used again this year is the same flawed formula pushed in place by Dr. Bennett in 2012 and theoretically voided by a displeased General Assembly in 2013.
  • Despite the 2013 law and the consensus that the current A-F system is deeply flawed, it is still in use for this one more round of school letter grades.
  • One reason it was considered flawed was that it relied almost completely on the percent passing the test and gave only minor attention to year-to-year student growth.  With the percentage passing falling precipitously this year as expected due to higher standards and a more difficult test, school letter grades are sure to drop as well, an artificial drop due to the reset of the test.

3) Will the Governor change his mind and finally agree with State Superintendent Ritz that this year should be treated as a transition year in testing with no negative consequences either for teachers or for schools?

  • For Statehouse posturing, there is no doubt that Governor Pence does not want to appear to be changing his mind to agree with State Superintendent Ritz on this.
  •  His October 27th statement has already shown that he has changed his mind enough to agree with her regarding protecting teacher evaluations and teacher bonuses. He apparently did not want individual teachers to blame him for their failure to get a bonus.
  •  If he doesn’t extend the same protection to school letter grades, he will be blamed for the low grades given to many schools and for helping private schools get more voucher students due to many schools receiving F’s for the first time.  Under the voucher law, all students living in the attendance area of an F school, including those already enrolled in private schools, become eligible for a free voucher to attend private schools.
  •  If he does extend the same protection to school letter grades, he will be chided for waiting for a full year before seeing the light and agreeing with the State Superintendent.

The Governor has painted himself into a corner on school letter grades.  Regardless of that and now that the huge drops in passing rates are clear, he should do the right thing and endorse a transition year plan which will not hurt schools with an artificially low letter grade in a year when the National Assessment has told us that Indiana students are achieving higher than they have ever achieved on the highly respected “nation’s report card.”

I urge all public school advocates to communicate with Governor Pence and with their legislators or with all legislators to say that transition year test scores should not  penalize teachers in their performance bonuses and also should not penalize schools in their letter grades. 

The status of both teachers and schools should be held harmless while new baseline test scores are reset.

Thank you for your advocacy for public education!

Best wishes,

Vic Smith      vic790@aol.com


Vic’s Statehouse Notes
#233 – October 14, 2015

Dear Friends,

Despite the deep questions about too much testing raised by the General Assembly in the last session, the State Board of Education is poised to set new cut scores that will drive Hoosier schools to double down on the teaching and learning time needed to pass tougher math and English tests.

Expectations for Indiana students have been ratcheted upward, and lower rates of passing ISTEP+ are the result.  Lower test scores will lower school letter grades and will impact teacher compensation linked to test scores. 

At today’s meeting of the State Board of Education, recommendations for cut scores were presented but not passed pending additional information.  The agenda materials presented to the board and to the public showed the impact of the proposed cut scores:  Grade 3-8 pass rates would drop 12% to 18% in English/Language Arts from the previous year.  In math the Grade 3-8 drops would range from 19% to 29%.

State Superintendent Ritz has called for a plan to prevent the change to more rigorous standards and tests from punishing our schools.  Governor Pence and his appointees on the State Board have said no to her proposals to “pause” school letter grades during this transition.  Public school advocates should look at the data and let our leaders know that raising standards should not be used as a tool to lower school letter grades and punish our schools or our teachers.

Consider the Data

In a memo attached to the State Board of Education agenda item on “ISTEP+ Standard Score Setting” available for all to see online, the pass rates (“Impact Data”) using the cut score final recommendations were listed as seen in the first column below.  The second column shows pass rates from the previous year on the 2013-14 test, which are documented on pages 10-15 of the attached report entitled “A 25-Year Review:  Improvement in Indiana’s Public Schools.”

 

            Grade

Subject

Pass Rates 2013-14

Pass rates based on new recommended cut scores 2014-15

Change

3

English/Language Arts

83%

71%

-12%

4

English/Language Arts

86%

70%

-16%

5

English/Language Arts

81%

63%

-18%

6

English/Language Arts

78%

64%

-14%

7

English/Language Arts

77%

63%

-14%

8

English/Language Arts

76%

59%

-17%

3

Math

80%

61%

-19%

4

Math

83%

64%

-19%

5

Math

89%

67%

-22%

6

Math

85%

60%

-25%

7

Math

80%

52%

-28%

8

Math

81%

52%

-29%

 

Important Questions Loom

  • Did anyone consider the fiscal cost of investing more time and effort in getting students above ever higher cut scores in English and math?
  • Will this redoubled effort in English and math continue the decline in time and attention paid to the arts, world languages, social studies and even science?
  • Do these proposed cut scores reflect accurate judgments about what students must know or has the cut score process failed to get it right?
  • Will lower pass rates punish schools and teachers through lower school grades and lower teacher compensation bonuses?
  • During this transition to higher standards and higher expectations, should schools and teachers be “held harmless” to avoid the negative consequences of sharply lower test scores on this new test?
  • Should adjustments be made since the 2014-15 test will only be used this one time to be followed in 2015-16 by a new test from Pearson?

Ever More Rigorous Tests:  We’ve Seen it Before

Since the 1999 Accountability law was passed, more rigorous tests have been introduced with great fanfare two times, most recently in 2008-09 when the test was switched to spring.  The 2008-09 change resulted in pass rates going down by an average of 5% per grade in Grades 3-8.

The figures released this morning which are seen above show a starkly greater impact than a 5% drop.

The average for Grades 3-8 in English/Language Arts is a 15% drop in the pass rate. 

The average for Grades 3-8 in Math is a 23% drop in the pass rate.

I urge you to discuss these testing changes and these pass rates with your state legislators as well as your State Board of Education members.

Before they approve these cut scores, are they sure they have it right?

Are schools and teachers going to be punished as collateral damage to a policy effort to raise standards and tests in English and math to the most rigorous level we have ever seen in Indiana?

Do we need to step back and figure out a way to “hold harmless” the impact on schools and teachers in this huge change in testing?

Thanks for your advocacy for public education!

Best wishes,

Vic Smith      vic790@aol.com

 

Vic’s Statehouse Notes #231 – October 1, 2015

Dear Friends,

Achieve President Michael Cohen played a nasty trick on the Indiana education system Tuesday and then left the state.  He left behind a headline featured in a Fox 59 article entitled “Experts say Indiana students aren’t as smart as they’ve been led to believe,” which contained the following information:

“Recently Achieve looked at test results in all 50 states and compared them against the National Assessment of Education Progress, known as the Nation’s Report Card.

In Indiana, experts found one of the largest gaps in the nation between what ISTEP deemed proficient compared to national standards.

He didn’t tell legislators that “Proficient” on the National Assessment is not the same thing as “Passing” on ISTEP.  The numbers he cited for ISTEP are “Passing” percentages.

He didn’t tell legislators that a careful definition of “Passing” is developed by the committees that guide the Indiana cut scores, and it is not the same as the definition of “Proficient” developed by the NAEP  governing board.

He didn’t tell legislators that National Assessment has another standard called “Basic” that better matches the “Passing” definition and is more commonly used to describe how a state is doing.

He didn’t tell legislators that Indiana scores on the National Assessment are above the US national average on both the “Proficient” standard and the “Basic” standard at both grade levels. 

PROFICIENT ON 2013-14 ISTEP

PROFICIENT ON 2013 NAEP

GAP

4th grade reading

86%

38%

48%

4th grade math

83%

52%

31%

8th grade reading

76%

35%

41%

8th grade math

81%

38%

43%

 

“What I told legislators is they’re basically misleading students and parents about their performance,” Cohen said. “They’re telling them they’re proficient when in all likelihood they’re not very well prepared to learn the material at the next grade level, nor are they prepared for success in post-secondary education.”

These are tough charges by Dr. Cohen, but his bashing of Indiana education results, and presumably those of other states, is misleading and inappropriate.  Here is what he left out of his remarks to the legislators:

A truly fair and balanced table of results would look like this, in place of Dr. Cohen’s table above:

 

#221 – May 5, 2015

Passing on 2013-14 ISTEP

Proficient on 2013 NAEP

Basic Standard 2013 

NAEP

4th grade reading

86% (language arts)

38%  (US 34%)

73%  (US 67%)

4th grade math

83%

52%  (US 41%)

90%  (US 82%)

8th grade reading

76% (language arts)

35%  (US 34%)

79%  (US 77%) 

8th grade math

81%

38%  (US 34%)

77%  (US 73%)

 

 

Clearly, the basic standard fits closer to the definition of passing ISTEP in Indiana.  

Education expert Diane Ravitch, in article entitled “The Myth of Charter Schools”, has called this interpretation of NAEP data a “distortion”:

I served as a member of the governing board for the national tests for seven years…  The highest level of performance, “advanced,” is equivalent to an A+, representing the highest possible academic performance. The next level, “proficient,” is equivalent to an A or a very strong B. The next level is “basic,” which probably translates into a C grade.”

Dr. Cohen is not the first to attempt to elevate NAEP “Proficient” scores from their current “A/B” to a level that all students are expected to pass.  Governor Daniels, in his 2011 State of the State address, in pushing his voucher proposal to give public money to private schools, said:  “The brute facts persist:  only one in three of our children can pass the national math or reading exam.”  Without explaining, he was talking about the NAEP proficient scores, using them to demean our school progress in the historic 2011 debate to begin to privatize public education with vouchers.

Dr. Cohen cherry picked only part of the data, did not even mention the Basic standard, and failed to tell our legislators that Indiana NAEP scores are above the national average on both the Proficient and the Basic standard.  He has tried to turn a positive story of Indiana’s strong and improving performance on NAEP since 1990 into a negative.  While he accuses Indiana educators of misleading students and parents, his omission of the context of NAEP is misleading our legislators and our state leaders.

Of course, everyone is trying to raise Indiana’s standards and improve our performance.  That is happening in a steady manner, as documented in the attached report.  Debates over our progress should include the full context of the data.

The entire record of Indiana’s performance and improvement on the National Assessment since 1990 can be seen on Table 6 (p. 8) of the attached report about improvement in Indiana schools.  ISTEP data is detailed in Tables 7 and 8. 

Thanks for your advocacy for public education!

Best wishes,

Vic Smith      vic790@aol.com


Vic's Statehouse Notes

Dear Friends,

After watching 19 sessions of the General Assembly, I have come to expect a surprise on the last day.  The surprise last Wednesday on the April 29th deadline was a bold last minute gambit to remove State Superintendent Ritz’s authority over private school vouchers and over Scholarship Granting Organization private school scholarships and give that authority to the State Board of Education, controlled by Governor Pence.

This unexpected cliffhanger power grab, a concept not discussed in any previous bill in the entire session, was part of the budget released to the public about 10pm on Tuesday night (April 28th).  It is not clear who inserted the language in question, but it is clear who took quick action in their caucus to reverse it:  Senate Republicans.  The Senators did not endorse this last minute policy change over vouchers, a change which the Indianapolis Star highlighted in an online mid-day story.  The Senate Republicans acted decisively to prompt a second draft of the final budget, which was released to the public about 5pm Wednesday and passed by both chambers just before midnight.

Give kudos to the Senate Republicans and direct your questions to the House Republicans and the Governor about this inappropriate last minute maneuver.

Sections 234 and 236

One sentence in a 248 page budget set up the abrupt policy change on Scholarship Granting Organizations.  In Section 234 of the first conference committee report, referencing IC 20-51-3-11, the word "department" was crossed out to read: "The state board shall adopt rules under IC 4-22-2 to implement this article."

That is all it took to end the authority of the State Superintendent to supervise Scholarship Granting Organizations.

A similar change in Section 236 ended department authority over choice scholarships and the voucher program.

Senate Republicans, however, had not agreed to this last minute change and took action to reverse it.

In the Senate version of the budget passed in early April, the Senators had frozen the Scholarship Granting Organization tax credits at the current $7.5 million.  The Governor and the House Republicans had endorsed an expansion to $12.5 million with an escalator clause that would automatically raise the amount each year by 20% if the SGO donations reached the maximum amount.

Many Senators have now recognized that this is an uncontrolled method of expanding vouchers to nearly all current private school students since a year with an SGO scholarship makes any student eligible for a choice scholarship voucher in the subsequent year.  This makes the voucher program no longer about funding a transfer to private schools but about giving public funds for a private decision made long ago to students who have always been in private schools.

Consider these astounding numbers gleaned from the straightforward data in the Feb. 2015 Annual Financial Report on the voucher program prepared by the Indiana Department of Education:  From 2012-13 to 2014-15, in just two years, the self-pay private school students dropped from 71,000 to 55,000, down 16,000, while the voucher funded private students jumped from 9,000 to 29,000, up 20,000.  Overall, private school enrollment went up only 4000, from 81,000 to 85,000 in those two years.  (Figures have been rounded to the nearest thousand.) 

The conclusion is that tax dollars are not supplementing private school tuition to produce vast numbers of new voucher students, but rather tax dollars are supplanting private school tuition by funding students who have always been in private schools.  Giving an SGO scholarship to a current private school student has become the biggest pathway to making that student eligible for a voucher the next year.

Final Budget Numbers  

In the final budget compromise, the Senate and the House settled on raising the SGO tax credits to $8.5 million in the first year of the budget and to $9.5 million in the second year of the budget.

Clearly, advocates for public education should thank members of the Senate for trying to hold the line on voucher expansion through Scholarship Granting Organization tax credit scholarships.

Then it is time to ask the tough questions to members of the House.  Why is the House so supportive of expanding vouchers through Scholarship Granting Organizations?  Why does the House want to accelerate the shift of public money to private schools by allowing the unlimited growth of tax credit scholarships?

Removing the Cap on Grade K-8 Vouchers

In addition to the SGO expansion, Governor Pence wanted to remove the $4800 cap on vouchers for grades K-8, at a cost his office projected to be $3.8 million per year.  Despite the objections of many public school advocates, the House and Senate both endorsed the expansion of vouchers in this way.  The cap for K-8 vouchers is now the same as for 9-12 vouchers, that is, 90% of the per pupil funding in each school district.

The Education Controversy of this Generation:  Will public tuition dollars go to private schools?

This is the fourth budget in a row in which the last minute education battles have been waged over funding private school tuition with public dollars.

In 2009, the General Assembly deadlocked and could not pass a budget by the end of April.  In a June special session, a final budget deal which barely passed by July 1 included the first ever Scholarship Granting Organization tax credits funded at $2.5 million.

In 2011, the bill establishing the voucher program had to use the budget bill as a trailer bill to fix details in the voucher bill (HB1003) that Representative Behning couldn’t get fixed in a conference committee.

In 2013, the budget had to be amended one more time on the last day, just as this year, when key Senators balked on giving private school vouchers to areas served by D schools.  Only F school areas were allowed in the voucher expansion plan in the final budget.

This year in 2015, the last day battle over control of the voucher program came out of the blue.  In the 2013 session, House Bill 1342 to separate voucher administration from the State Superintendent passed the House Education Committee on a party line vote, but then died.  In the 2014 or the current 2015 sessions, no bills addressed a voucher takeover until this final day budget maneuver.

This astounding move confirms that the battle over vouchers runs deep in the hearts and minds of the contestants vying to control the future of education in Indiana:  Will education in Indiana be delivered through strong community public schools or will education gradually be privatized via vouchers as public schools lose priority?

It is the education question of our generation.

Thanks for your advocacy for public education during the 2015 session of the General Assembly!

Best wishes,

Vic Smith      vic790@aol.com

Vic's Statehouse Notes #220 – April 28, 2015

Dear Friends,

$469 million dollars!

Speaker Bosma said on last Friday's edition of The Lawmakers (April 24th) that the budget for tuition support for Indiana K-12 schools would go up by $469 million dollars in the new biennial budget, despite a slight downturn in the revenue forecast.

It is good news that the lower revenue forecast is not dissuading legislative leaders from their plans to raise K-12 spending by 2.3% each year.

Then the Speaker went on to say that $469 million dollars is the largest school funding increase in state history.

Apparently, no one has told him about 1997.  In the 1997 budget, state funding for K-12 tuition support went up by $482 million, more than the 2015 budget’s planned increase, but there is more to the story.  In those days, the legislature also directed local property taxes to be levied for use by K-12 schools.  Adding in the property tax, the 1997 school formula added $616 million new dollars for K-12 schools!  Total funding went up 4.8% each year, double the percentage increase planned for this budget.

If another $14 million would be added to this year’s school funding, the claim that state funding has never been higher might hold.  Certainly, another $14 million would help districts serving students of poverty.  The low revenue suburban districts that have not been treated fairly in past budgets are getting needed relief in this year's school formula.  Complexity dollars, however, for districts with concentrations of poverty have been reduced in the House and Senate budgets.  They are the potential losers this year.

The final version of the budget is expected to be unveiled this afternoon.

School Funding in 1997 and Now

The school funding formula in 1997 and all budgets up through 2007 included both state dollars and local property tax dollars for K-12 schools.  When the property tax crisis hit, the school general fund was shifted over to be funded exclusively by state dollars.

The state funding for schools in 1997 went up by 6.0% each year and the local property tax levy for schools went up by 2.8% each year.  The combination of these two sources in the 1997 budget produced the increase of 4.8% each year.

Thoughts of 1997 hearken back to the days when public education was a high priority and the appropriation for K-12 public schools was not shared with private school vouchers.  This year, when Speaker Bosma says school funding will get $469 million, his figure includes at least $15.7 million that the IDOE documented as the net fiscal cost of private school vouchers in 2013-14 along with the new cost of Governor Pence's plan to remove the $4800 cap on vouchers in the new budget, which carries a price tag of at least $3.8 million each year according to LSA. 

All costs for vouchers come out of the K-12 tuition support budget because the Governor and the Republican leadership have refused to put all private school voucher costs in a separate line item for clarity and transparency purposes.  It is hard to precisely track the cost of private school vouchers under our current budgeting procedures, and the Governor in his support for voucher expansion seems to like it that way.

The final school funding budget in the 2015 budget will be unveiled late this afternoon.  The public will see it after a review by the Republican caucus.  Both the House and the Senate will then pass it tomorrow on the final day of the session, and the cheering and the wailing will begin.  All indications point to the fact that this school budget will have winners and losers.

Thanks for your advocacy for public education and for your efforts to make funding for public education a high priority in the General Assembly!

Best wishes,

Vic Smith      vic790@aol.com

Vic's Statehouse Notes #219 – April 27, 2015

Dear Friends,

Keep up the messages opposing Senate Bill 1, which removes the State Superintendent as chair of the State Board of Education.  Your drumbeat of opposition is making a difference.

At today’s 10am Conference Committee meeting on Senate Bill 1, Senator Holdman unveiled a proposed conference committee report that mitigated the worst partisan move in the bill.  It no longer would change the power of the State Superintendent in the middle of the electoral term.  Instead, the chair would be chosen by the other board members after December 31, 2016, after the 2016 election.

While this was a small gain in the proposed compromise, the bad news is that new language has been added that would give additional powers to the State Board.  Representative Austin stated in discussion that the proposal to make the State Board an educational authority "within the meaning of the federal Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act" had been voted down in House Bill 1072.  Under current rules, a rejected proposal is not to be brought back in a conference committee.

Senator Holdman said he would look into that.

This bill is not done.  More messages opposing SB 1 would help.  The bill is unnecessary.  It diminishes the power of the elected State Superintendent.  If you have not yet contacted your legislators about Senate Bill 1, please do so tonight or tomorrow.

Appointment Powers

Senator Holdman's compromise plan is to have nine members on the State Board, instead of the current eleven.  The Governor would appoint six, of which four must be experienced educators defined as having at least 5 years of professional experience in education and no more than four can be of the same political party.  The Speaker and the President Pro Tem would each appoint one.  The State Superintendent would be the ninth.

As Senator Lanane analyzed the numbers in today’s meeting, the plan would result under our current circumstances in a board with six Republicans and three Democrats.

No Qualifications Listed for the New Chair

This bill has ignored addressing the qualifications of the chair of the State Board that under SB 1 would succeed the State Superintendent.  For 102 years, by having the State Superintendent chair the State Board, the citizens of Indiana have been guaranteed that the chair of the State Board is thoroughly knowledgeable about the schools of Indiana from personal experience.  Now SB 1 proposes a new chair with no qualifications stated who would now become the most powerful policy leader in education.  This person should be an experienced professional educator with deep experience in Indiana. 

Is the supermajority proposing in this bill that the most powerful policy leader in education in Indiana could be a non-educator without personal experience in teaching or administration?   That is where it now stands.  I hope you will ask legislators to fix this flaw in the bill, if they don’t withdraw the bill altogether.

New Language

While the delayed implementation of demoting the State Superintendent as chair was welcome, it came at the same time new language was proposed that has not been considered before in this session.  This is very late in the process to be starting new language, especially language that leaves lots of questions.

One new section regarding plans for a turnaround school reads "The state board may require the department to report to the state board regarding implementation of a recommended plan."  Does the State Board expect noncompliance if they ask the IDOE for a report?  Is this language assuming confrontation?

Another new section regarding ISTEP says the state board shall "authorize and approve the development and establishment of passing scores."  Does this mean the State Board staff can wrest the management of setting the cut scores away from the IDOE testing staff who have supervised the setting of cut scores since Public Law 221 began in 1999?

We don’t need last minute controversies about giving the State Board new powers.  We don’t need Senate Bill 1. 

Send a Message to Members of the Conference Committee

If you have not already done so, send a message to the conference committee members.

The Senate Conferees are Senator Holdman, chair of the committee, and Senator Lanane.

The House Conferees are Representative McMillin and Representative Vernon Smith.

Senate Advisors on the Committee are Senators Kenley, Breaux, Rogers, Kruse and Yoder.

House Advisors on the Committee are Representatives Behning, Cook, McNamara, Austin, Errington and Moed.

The easiest way to email committee members is to go the Indiana General Assembly website and click on the Conference Committee on Senate Bill 1.  When the committee information comes up, each member is pictured on the left.  Clicking on each picture allows you to send an email to each member.

Then send a message to your legislators since all will be voting on Senate Bill 1 at least by Wednesday, the last day of the session.

Thanks for your strong advocacy for public education!

Best wishes,

Vic Smith      vic790@aol.com


Vic’s Statehouse Notes
#218 – April 24, 2015  

Dear Friends,

If you object to the Republican supermajority taking away the power of the State Superintendent to chair the State Board of Education, you have one more weekend to communicate your concerns with legislators.

Senate Bill 1, taking the power to name the chair of the State Board away from the voters for the first time in 102 years and giving that power to appointees on the State Board, has been scheduled for a Conference Committee meeting at 10am on Monday, April 27, 2015 in Statehouse Room 130, a small room on the first floor.

Please note the conferees listed below and communicate your objections to this bill.  They are shaping the final conference committee report.  Then communicate your thoughts to your legislators or to all legislators, since all will be voting on the final version by Wednesday, April 29th, the last day of a difficult session.

You could also attend the Conference Committee meeting.  There is no guarantee that public testimony will be taken on the Conference Committee proposal, although in many Conference Committees in this session, the chair of Conference Committee has invited public testimony.  Whether public testimony is allowed is completely up to the chair of the committee.

A Partisan Bill

Senate Bill 1 is a controversial highly partisan bill.  The most controversial part is the thought that the powers of the office of State Superintendent are being changed during the term of the office, without waiting for the next election.

This directly undermines the power of voters.  This hurts our democracy by reducing the power of the ballet box.

A glimmer of hope was raised in committee discussions about the possibility that in the final version, the powers of the State Superintendent would not be reduced until after the 2016 election.  That would allow the person who the voters thought that they were selecting to chair the State Board to serve out her term before the rules change.  The rules should not change in the middle of a term.

A decision to make this change would take the most partisan sting out of the bill and would be worth advocating when you communicate with legislators about Senate Bill 1.

Members of the Conference Committee

Conference Committee members will resolve the differences between the two versions of the bill described below and will set the final language of the bill.

The Senate Conferees are Senator Holdman, chair of the committee, and Senator Lanane.

The House Conferees are Representative McMillin and Representative Vernon Smith.

Senate Advisors on the Committee are Senators Kenley, Breaux, Rogers, Kruse and Yoder.

House Advisors on the Committee are Representatives Behning, Cook, McNamara, Austin, Errington and Moed.

Communications this weekend on Senate Bill 1 should start with these legislators and then extend to others of your choice who will be voting on the bill by Wednesday.

The easiest way to email committee members is to go the Indiana General Assembly website and click on meetings for April 27 on the calendar.  Then click on the Conference Committee on Senate Bill 1.  When the committee information comes up, each member is pictured on the left.  Clicking on each picture allows you to send an email to each member.

The Dispute over Appointments to the State Board  

The dispute between Governor Pence and legislative leaders over who should appoint members of the State Board has pushed this controversial bill later in the session than expected.  The versions that passed each house are quite different in appointive powers.

The Senate version, which passed 33-17, changes the board to nine members instead of the current 11, with 4 appointed by the Governor, 2 by the Speaker of the House and 2 by the President Pro Tem of the Senate.  The State Superintendent would be the ninth member.

The House version, which passed 56-41, changes the board to 13 members, with 10 appointed by the Governor as he does now, 1 appointed by the Speaker, and 1 appointed by the President Pro Tem.  The State Superintendent would be the 13th member.

Both versions said that the appointees would select the chair.

The House version gives the State Board the explicit power to hire staff and to request the help of the non-partisan Legislative Services Agency in conducting evaluations and audits.  The latter has become a huge issue because it represents an executive branch agency (State Board) tapping the services of a legislative agency (LSA) for potentially controversial purposes, threatening the non-partisan reputation of LSA.

Senator Holdman did not concur with the House changes, leading to the Conference Committee and the meeting on Monday.

Let Your Voice Be Heard 

Do the 1.3 million voters of Indiana who elected Glenda Ritz agree that the supermajority should reduce the powers of the State Superintendent without waiting for the next election to let the voters decide? 

If not, let legislators know how you feel by Monday morning.

My testimony on Senate Bill 1 in the House Education Committee on April 9th is attached. 

I opposed the bill strongly as an affront to our democracy and the power of voters.  I called it a skirmish in a greater war over whether a strong public education system will survive in Indiana.  I argued that the dissension in the State Board centered on policy disputes related to questions of maintaining a strong system of public education.  I stated my belief that this bill clearly downgrades the power of the voters and tips the balance in policy debates in favor of the State Board.  I concluded that reducing the power of the voters before the next election diminishes our democracy.

I urge you to consider these arguments and then to send your own message by Monday morning.

Thanks for your strong advocacy for public education!

Best wishes,

Vic Smith      vic790@aol.com


Vic's Statehouse Notes
#217 – April 21, 2015

Dear Friends,

When the Religious Freedom Restoration Act was fixed to quell the national firestorm damaging Indiana's reputation, religious voucher schools were left out of the fix.

When the fix (Senate Bill 50) said that providers could not refuse service to citizens, religious schools were specifically deleted from the definition of "providers" covered by the fix.

The only entities exempted by the fix that also receive public tax dollars are religious schools that accept vouchers.

Does this mean that religious voucher schools that receive millions of dollars in public tax money can legally deny services to students and families based on sexual orientation and gender identity when the few non-religious voucher schools cannot?

Governor Pence has asked for additional public money to go to private voucher schools by removing the $4800 cap on elementary school vouchers and by raising the budget for Scholarship Granting Organization tax credits for private school scholarships to $12.5 million each year.  Governor Pence's expansion requests should be denied, especially under the current circumstances. 

Expanding private school vouchers at any time is an unwise use of tax dollars and hurts public schools, but it would be particularly harmful to expand private school vouchers this year without a clear amendment specifying that religious schools that accept vouchers do not have a license to discriminate.

Let your legislators know that public schools do not discriminate and private schools taking public money must not discriminate either.

Senate Bill 50 – The Details 

You remember the crisis.  Speaker Bosma and President Pro Tem Long said on the Monday before Final Four weekend that RFRA needed to be clarified, and by Thursday of that week, Senate Bill 50 had been written, passed by both houses and signed by the Governor.  The crisis was addressed.  The Final Four and the difficult job of reputation restoration began.  The state plans to spend $2 million (more than Indiana now spends on teacher professional development) with an out-of-state public relations firm to restore Indiana’s national and international image.  

Have you read the hurriedly written Senate Bill 50?  I was slow to read the bill, but when I did, it contained surprising language.  It adds language to the Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA) that begins:

"This chapter does not:  (1) authorize a provider to refuse to offer or provide services, facilities, use of public accommodations, goods, employment, or housing to any member or members of the general public on the basis of race, color, religion, ancestry age, national origin, disability, sex, sexual orientation, gender identity, or United States military service;"

Then later it defines "provider" as:  "one (1) or more individuals, partnerships, associations, organizations, limited liability companies, corporations, and other organized groups of persons.  The term does not include: (1) A church or other nonprofit religious organization or society, including an affiliated school, that is exempt from federal income taxation"Thus, churches and their affiliated schools are exempt from the fix.  The full text is attached.

Should Entities Getting Tax Money Have a License to Discriminate?
Churches do not get tax money to run their operations, so their omission was expected.
Church schools, however, that choose to accept Choice Scholarships (vouchers) get millions of dollars from the Indiana treasury, approximately $110 million according to the latest financial report on vouchers issued by the Indiana Department of Education in February.

Leaving open the legal basis for religious schools to refuse to provide services when they are getting public money to provide those services is just wrong.

Should Religious Voucher Schools Be Excluded from the Fix When Non-Religious Non-Sectarian Voucher Schools are Not?

Senate Bill 50 puts voucher schools in two categories.  Religiously affiliated schools are excluded from the fix and thus apparently retain legal standing to deny services under the law.  Non-religious voucher schools under Senate Bill 50 are providers who must not deny services.

According to the listing of 314 private schools receiving state funding in the annual financial report on the voucher program issued by IDOE in February, 2015, 22 private schools are non-sectarian and 292 private schools are affiliated with a church.  That the General Assembly would put these two groups in different legal categories regarding denial of services is both incredible and inappropriate. 

The non-sectarian Todd Academy in Indianapolis should not be given a different legal standing from the  church-affiliated St. Joan of Arc School in Indianapolis as regards providing services to the general public.  The General Assembly needs to fix this.

Act Now

This is truly a confusing and intolerable situation about private voucher schools which must be clarified by the General Assembly and by Governor Pence.  Given these new complications, voucher expansion and new expenditures for private school vouchers should be put on a moratorium until the General Assembly enacts a clarification.

Do religious voucher schools have a license to discriminate?  We need to know either way.  The General Assembly needs to fix the fix.

How is the $2 million dollar public relations firm going to paper over the fact that 292 religiously affiliated schools accepting over $110 million dollars in Indiana tax dollars can still deny services based on RFRA?

Let your legislators and Governor Pence know that any expansion for private school vouchers in the budget is a bad idea at any time, but it is absolutely wrong when religious schools that accept vouchers have the legal right to deny services under RFRA.

Only eight days remain in this session of the General Assembly.  Legislators could fix the fix with an amendment, and they should.  If this issue concerns you, contact legislators right away about allowing tax funded private voucher schools to deny services under the law.
Thanks for your strong advocacy for public education!

Best wishes,

Vic Smith      vic790@aol.com

Vic's Statehouse Notes #216 – April 16, 2015

Dear Friends,

The Senate passed their version of the budget yesterday (April 15th) by a vote of 42-8. 

It includes a number of differences from the House budget, including disbanding Indiana’s Education Roundtable and shrinking the budget for the State Board of Education from $3 million to $750,000 per year.  Reconciling differences between the two versions in a Conference Committee begins on Friday.

Giving more money to private school vouchers by removing the $4800 cap on Grade 1-8 vouchers is still in the Senate version, just as Governor Pence requested.

Today in a Statehouse press conference, the Center for Tax and Budget Accountability issued a new report saying "None of the independent studies performed of the most lauded and long-standing voucher programs in the U.S – Milwaukee, Cleveland and Washington, D. C.- found any statistical evidence that children who used  vouchers performed better than children in public school."

I urge you to review the full report attached and the press release showing key findings of this excellent report.  Then contact Governor Pence and members of the General Assembly to express your opposition to spending additional public tax money on private school vouchers.

Who Prepared the Report?

The Center for Tax and Budget Accountability is, in the words of the press release, "a bipartisan, nonprofit research and advocacy think tank that works across ideological lines to promote social and economic justice."  They have worked extensively on educational policy and on economic issues.  CATB is located in Chicago.

Ralph Matire, Executive Director of CATB presented the report in today’s press conference in the South Atrium of the Statehouse.  He graduated from Indiana University Phi Beta Kappa and holds a J.D. from the University of Michigan.

Key Findings

A sampling from the introduction:

"The goal is to answer two key questions about the Indiana Choice Legislation as objectively as possible.

First, does the actual documented track record of existing voucher programs demonstrate that those programs in fact achieved the desired goal of enhancing student achievement?  Here, the short and clear answer is no.

Second, can voucher programs be expected to enhance student performance or improve public education systems, based on the education reforms implemented in the nations that currently rank in the top five in the world in reading, math and science under PISA? Again, based on the evidence, the answer is no.

In fact, it appears that core aspects of Indiana's voucher program are directly contrary to best practice education reforms implemented by the five global leaders in education:  Korea, Finland, Hong Kong, Singapore, and Canada." (Page 3 of the report)

Other key findings:

"One probable consequence of the Indiana Choice Legislation, therefore, will be the diversion of public, taxpayer dollars away from the state's higher performing public education system to lower performing private religious schools.  Because of this, the Indiana Voucher Legislation may actually diminish student achievement in the state over time."  (Page 3)

"The nations that have been most successful in improving student achievement over time have focused on systems-based reforms that build capacity of the overall education system and have eschewed reforms based on competition and choice.  Meanwhile, nations that have taken the competition choice path to education reform have failed to realize enhanced student achievement."   (Page 3)

"Subsidizing individual decisions that do not generate a public good or service—even legitimate ones well within the rights of, in this case, the parents making them—is an inappropriate use of public money." (Page 4)

"The School Expenditure Deduction will cause local governments across Indiana to lose up to $1.4 million annually in Local Option Income Tax revenue, thereby constraining their ability to provide police, fire, trash collection and other core local services to constituents.  This is difficult to justify, given that the public revenue spent to subsidize private decisions under the School Expenditure Deduction serves no identifiable public interest."   (Page 4)

Share the Report and Talk with Legislators

This is an excellent detailed report about the link between vouchers and student achievement and about using public money for public purposes and not to subsidize private choices that would be made anyway.  I hope you will read it and share it with others.

Then I hope you share again with legislators your belief that public money should be focused on public education.  Spending even more public money on private school vouchers in the new budget is going in the wrong direction.

Thanks for your strong advocacy for public education!

Vic's Statehouse Notes #215 April 7, 2015

Dear Friends,

The bill to remove State Superintendent Ritz as chair of the State Board of Education, Senate Bill 1, will be given a public hearing this Thursday, April 9th at 8:30am in Room 156C of the Statehouse.

This highly controversial bill diminishing the powers of the elected State Superintendent has been ignored in recent weeks during the highly controversial debates over the Religious Freedom Restoration Act.  Now at the end of today's House Education Committee meeting, Chairman Behning said Senate Bill 1 will be heard on Thursday.

If you have strong feelings about this bill and reducing the powers of the State Superintendent of Public Instruction, you should come to testify on Thursday or send messages to members of the House Education Committee before the meeting.

Add Your Voice to the Testimony on Thursday

Over a thousand people came to an impressive rally on February 16th in support of public education and the State Superintendent of Public Instruction.  If you were among those who came, you should consider coming back to testify against this bill. 

Any citizen can testify.  You simply need to sign in before the meeting begins at 8:30am on the form provided for those who wish to speak.  The time may be inconvenient and the notice is short, but that is the way the General Assembly operates.  I hope you will decide to make your opinions known to the legislators.

Update on Senate Bill 1 and House Bill 1609

The House and the Senate passed differing bills removing the elected State Superintendent as chair of the State Board of Education.  I and many others opposed both bills, but both were passed in the first half of the session.

House Bill 1609 did not get a hearing in the Senate and died.  Senate Bill 1 is the only bill left on this topic.

House Bill 1609 left the other appointments to the State Board in the hands of the Governor, as it is now.  Senate Bill 1 changed the appointment of the State Board to give the Governor four appointments, the Speaker of the House two appointments, and the President Pro Tem of the Senate two appointments.  The State Superintendent would be the ninth and final member of the board.  Senate Bill 1 changed the size of the State Board from 11 to 9.  It is expected that the House Committee will further amend the Senate plan on Thursday after the public hearing.

Talking Points

Many people are deeply concerned about this proposed change in the powers of the State Superintendent and already have their list of talking points.  Here are other points against this bill:

  1. This bill overturns long historical power allocations.  The State Superintendent has chaired the State Board of Education since 1913.

    This bill overturns the will of 1.3 million voters who elected Glenda Ritz thinking she would chair the State Board as part of her elected duties.

    This bill diminishes the powers given to the State Superintendent because her policies oppose in many ways the policies of Governor Pence.  This bill is to make sure the Governor's policies prevail, but that undermines the will of the voters who endorsed the policies of Superintendent Ritz in the 2012 election.

    Under current law, voters choose the chair of the State Board of Education by electing the State Superintendent.  This bill gives the power to choose the chair to appointees on the State Board.  Senate Bill 1 directly reduces the power of voters.

    Diminishing the powers of the Superintendent of Public Instruction is an obvious symbol of diminishing Indiana’s priority on public education, in line with the Governor's policies to promote private schools.

    It is not fair to the voters in our democracy to change the powers of an office during the term of the office.   This is just plain wrong.  Any changes should be implemented after the next election. This bill would clearly diminish our democracy and the powers of voters.

You can add many other talking points as you communicate with members of the House about Senate Bill 1. 

Come One, Come All!

Come to the public hearing on Thursday at 8:30am if you can.  Legislators need to hear from those who have been deeply offended by this move to ignore the will of the voters in our democracy and win the policy debates by removing the State Superintendent as chair of the State Board.   When the voters spoke in the 2012 election, they did not expect to be ignored and disrespected in the ensuing policy debates as this bill implies.

If you can't come in person, please communicate with members of the House Education Committee before Thursday morning.

Let your voice be heard.

Once again, an easy way to contact members of the committee is to go to the Indiana General Assembly website and click on Committees, then on Standing Committees, and then on the name of the committee.  The pictures of committee members appear on the left.  As you click on each picture, an email form comes up that you can use to register your concerns with each member.

Thanks for your strong advocacy for public education!

Best wishes,

Vic Smith      vic790@aol.com

Vic's Statehouse Notes
#214 – April 6, 2015

Dear Friends,

It has turned out to be the perfect under-the-radar technique to shift the tuition costs of nearly all private school students over to the taxpayers.

I am referring to taxpayer subsidized Scholarship Granting Organization scholarships for private school tuition.  In Indiana law, they are called "School Scholarships", while vouchers are officially called "Choice Scholarships."

It has worked like this:

Established by the General Assembly in 2009, Scholarship Granting Organizations use public tax money to offer 50% tax credits to all taxpayers who donate to the SGO.  The SGO then uses the donations to give scholarships to private school students for tuition.  Under the law, these students can be students that have always gone to private schools as long as family income is $85,000 or less.

Under the law, private school students who receive an SGO scholarship, even those who have never even tried public schools, are eligible for a Choice Scholarship from the voucher program in the following school year.

This two year process from SGO scholarship to choice scholarship is now the leading path to voucher eligibility.  It promises to soon provide a state funded voucher for every private school student with family income up to $85,000.  The cost of vouchers in 2014-15 was $115 million.

Now in the new budget, the Governor and the House want to automatically increase the state subsidy for tax credit SGO scholarships, providing plenty of money for Scholarship Granting Organizations in perpetuity.

No other voucher expansion bill need ever be passed.  This under-the-radar program will expand vouchers to nearly all current private school students with no further legislation.

The budget is now in the hands of the Senate.  Let your Senators know that giving Scholarship Granting Organizations unlimited funding is not wise public policy.  Their funding should be curtailed and they should be held more accountable for the tax funds they have received.

Unlimited Expansion of Scholarship Granting Organization Tax Credits  

All that SGO's and voucher proponents need for unlimited expansion of vouchers is an unlimited supply of tax credits to give to donors.  That is exactly what the budgets proposed by the Governor and the House have provided.

On page 103 of the House budget (HB 1001) is the so-called escalator clause for permanent increases:

"In state fiscal year 2016-2017 and in each state fiscal year thereafter, the maximum total amount of tax credits awarded under this chapter is the greater of:

120% of the amount of tax credits awarded in the previous state fiscal year; or

$12,500,000. "

In other words, if the SGOs successfully get $25 million in donations and give out $12.5 million in tax credits, the next year they could give out $15 million, a 20% increase.  The year after that, they could give out $18 million, another 20% increase.

The House budget thus gives SGO tax credits a 20% increase to fund private school tuition while giving public schools a 2.3% increase in the school funding formula.

Let the Senators know that this is a step in the wrong direction.

Past Use of Tax Credits for SGO Scholarships     

The non-partisan Legislative Services Agency has chronicled the following figures showing tax credits claimed annually since the SGO tax credit was established: (Fiscal Note on HB 1001, Jan. 16, 2015)

Tax Year                 Total Amount Claimed      

2010                        $0.2 Million

2011                        $1.4 Million

2012                        $2.4 Million

2013                        $3.4 Million

Then in the LSA fiscal note on HB 1001 dated March 4, 2015, LSA writes that "as of Feb. 13, 2015, $6.4 million in credits have been claimed in FY 2015."

Clearly the cost to state taxpayers is rising quickly as this path to using public tax money to fund private school tuition catches on among high income taxpayers.  This is the most generous tax credit in the Indiana tax code, having no cap whatsoever on what individuals can give in order to take 50% off of their Indiana tax payment.

Act Today!

Let Senators, especially Senators on the Senate Appropriations Committee, know that this under-the-radar funding for private school tuition scholarships is undermining public funding for public schools.  Let them know that SGO tax credits should not be given a $5 million raise and an unlimited escalator in the new budget.

It is time to act.  The Senate budget is to be announced this Thursday, April 9th.  Make your voice heard today on this point to stop the expansion of vouchers.

Once again, an easy way to contact members of the committee is to go to the Indiana General Assembly website and click on Committees, then on Standing Committees, and then on the name of the committee.  The pictures of committee members appear on the left.  As you click on each picture, an email form comes up that you can use to register your concerns with each member.

Thanks for your strong advocacy for public education!

Best wishes,

Vic Smith      vic790@aol.com

Vic
's Statehouse Notes #213 – April 2, 2015

Dear Friends,

In their meeting yesterday, the Senate Education Committee amended House Bill 1638 to take out all powers of the State Board to intervene in local school corporations.  This is a good step in the right direction, removing an unprecedented new power.

Unfortunately, the bill is still alive.  The remainder of the bill passed the committee 9-2.

It now goes to the Senate Appropriations Committee.  It is time to contact members of the Senate Appropriations Committee to let them know of your opposition.

Keep those messages and letters coming about House Bill 1638.  They are making a difference in whittling away at this unnecessary bill which gives more school takeover powers to the State Board of Education.

Senator Leising reported in her discussion of HB 1638 that she has received 48 messages against the bill and zero messages for the bill.  Keep it up!

Amendment 19

Senator Rogers worked with Chairman Kruse to bring Amendment 19, a more comprehensive amendment than last week's amendment.  It deleted all references to State Board interventions at the school corporation level.  It also deleted all references to transformation zones.  All references to federal funding for takeover schools were deleted.

In a positive development, the new provisions regulating State Board closures of local schools proposed by Senator Rogers last week remained in the amendment.  These provisions require a two-thirds vote and a 60-day response plan.

The amendment was adopted by the committee by consent.

What Remains in House Bill 1638?

The remaining parts of House Bill 1638 focus on extending the power of the State Board to take schools over quicker, moving from the current six year sequence to four years.  State Board Member Dan Elsener in presenting the bill on March 18th said that the State Board wanted to have a Turnaround Office staffed by State Board staff under State Board control to fix these schools.  The House budget includes a $5 million dollar appropriation for "Turnaround Support", which is more than the Indiana state budget now gives for technology in the Senator Ford Technology Fund, currently budgeted at $3.09 million.

The General Assembly rejected proposals to cut the timeline from six years to four years in 2009, in 2012 and in 2013.  The Governor and the State Board are pushing hard this year to expand the powers of the State Board in this way.  Should the General Assembly grant Dan Elsener and the State Board more power this year for quicker takeovers?

I say no, based on two reasons:

  1. The five schools taken over by the State Board previously have been expensive disasters, marked by community upheavals, costly contracts, endless controversies and multiple lawsuits.  Takeovers have changed the State Board from functioning as a statewide policy board to functioning as a local board debating specific details at length about specific schools they are now running. Despite all the effort, extra investments, and controversy, four of the five remain F schools and one is a D school, despite having much smaller enrollments.  Instead of giving the State Board more power to take over schools quicker, the General Assembly should reign in the powers of the ambitious State Board and endorse the successful turnaround efforts of local districts that have now been well documented in data presented by the Indiana Department of Education.  A net total of 103 schools statewide have moved from D/F schools to A/B/C schools in the past year under current IDOE turnaround programs.
  2. Quicker takeovers are based on school letter grades.  We in Indiana still do not have a school grading system in place that is proven and has the confidence of the citizens of Indiana.  We are still using the same flawed system that the 2013 General Assembly found so problematic that they ordered it to be voided by November 15, 2013.  The State Board missed the deadline and has dragged their feet, ignoring the emergency powers the General Assembly gave them to write temporary rules by that date.  The General Assembly should not entrust the State Board with more power for quicker school takeovers until a measurement system for grading schools has been established which is respected by all.  The A-F panel appointed in part by the General Assembly recommended a new A-F system in October, 2014, but the State Board nitpicked the panel's work and six months later still has not settled on a new plan.  The State Board's defiance of the General Assembly's 2013 law should not be rewarded by giving them even more powers to take over schools quicker.

Contact Senators

I urge you to contact members of the Senate Appropriations Committee and other Senators as soon as possible.  Just one week remains for committee work.  They must consider HB 1638 by April 9th.

Tell them we don’t need more changes at this time when standards and testing are all changing.  Tell them you oppose HB 1638.

Once again, an easy way to contact members of the committee is to go to the Indiana General Assembly website and click on Committees, then on Standing Committees, and then on the name of the committee.  The pictures of committee members appear on the left.  As you click on each picture, an email form comes up that you can use to register your concerns with each member.

Thanks for your support of strong local control of public schools and your advocacy for public education!

Best wishes,

Vic Smith      vic790@aol.com

Vic's Statehouse Notes #212 – March 31, 2015 

Dear Friends,

House Bill 1638 is still alive and still gives the State Board new powers to take over schools quicker and unprecedented new powers to intervene in local school districts.  This bill needs your attention before the Senate Education Committee vote on April 1st at 1:30pm.

Despite amendments which improved House Bill 1638 last week, it is still an unnecessary bill which gives the State Board of Education more power when this State Board has not earned the confidence of Indiana citizens to wield more power.  The section empowering intervention in school corporations would be a first and a direct reduction of local control by elected school boards.

I urge you to contact members of the Senate Education Committee before the vote on HB 1638 at the 1:30 meeting on Wednesday.  Tell them we don't need more changes at this time when standards and testing are all changing.  Tell them you oppose HB 1638.

Amendment 17

Senator Rogers proposed Amendment 17 after consulting with Chairman Kruse, and it was accepted by the committee by consent.  She described her efforts to improve the bill as "putting lipstick on a pig" and did not commit to voting for the final bill.  Amendment 17 made several key changes:

The changeover to shrinking the school takeover timeline to four years instead of six years was moved back by one year to schools initially place in the lowest category after June 30, 2016.

Having the State Board assign an expert team to a school in the year after being placed in the lowest category was changed from a "shall" to a "may" provision.

It delayed the time that a school on the brink of a possible State Board takeover must submit a facilities master plan and an asset inventory to the State Board.

 It inserted new procedures for when the State Board determines that a school should be closed as they did recently in the case of Dunbar-Pulaski School in Gary, including the requirement for closure of a two-thirds vote of the State Board and an alternative plan to closure to be submitted by the school corporation.

The new power to intervene in local school corporations was delayed by a year for those school corporations initially placed in the lowest category after June 30, 2016 and remaining in the lowest category for four more years.

It removed from the list of State Board interventions in school corporations the option to assign "a special management team to operate all or part of the school corporation."

It removed from the list of State Board interventions in school corporations the option to assign "a special management team to develop a transformation zone plan and assist the school corporation with implementing the plan."

The Power to Intervene in Local School Corporations

Deleting the last two points above and thereby removing State Board powers to appoint outside managers to operate school districts were welcome developments.  What remains, however, is a new and unprecedented power in Indiana history for the State Board to intervene at the school district level based on school letter grades and Public Law 221, a new development that has not been given nearly enough public attention or discussion.

Three options for State Board intervention in school corporations remain in the amended bill: 

"(1) Implementing the department’s recommendations for improving the school corporation. (2) Other options for school improvement expressed at the public hearing.  (3) Filing a petition with the distressed unit appeal board established under IC 6-1.1-20.3 seeking to have the school corporation designated as a distressed political subdivision.  The distressed unit appeal board may designate the school corporation as a distressed political subdivision under IC 6-1.1-20.3-6.5 solely on the basis of the petition of the state board notwithstanding IC 6-1.1-20.3-6."

These options would give the State Board wide discretion and don’t rule out the drastic takeover options that were eliminated by the amendment.  It would clearly be better if assigning a private manager would be overtly banned by the bill, but it is not.

Does Indiana really want to give the State Board of Education these new powers over school districts and their elected boards?

I say no.

Does Indiana really want to entrust the State Board of Education with new powers to take over schools quicker?  The General Assembly has said no to this proposal in three previous sessions, and it is back because the hard-charging State Board wants to set up a Turnaround Office run by the State Board.  Do we want them to do that in conflict with the successful turnaround efforts documented by the Outreach Office of the Indiana Department of Education?

I say no.

You can have your say with the Senate Education Committee if you communicate with them before 1:30pm tomorrow, April 1st.

Contact Senators

Once again, an easy way to contact members of the committee is to go to the Indiana General Assembly website and click on Committees, then on Standing Committees, and then on the name of the committee.  The pictures of committee members appear on the left.  As you click on each picture, an email form comes up that you can use to register your concerns with each member.

Thanks for your support of strong local control of public schools and your advocacy for public education!

Best wishes,

Vic Smith      vic790@aol.com

 


Vic’s Statehouse Notes
#211 -  March 24, 2015

Dear Friends, 

Are current Indiana Scholarship Granting Organizations following the law?

Indiana legislators should investigate and assure citizens and taxpayers that the law is being followed before investing another $10 million dollars of public tax money in SGO’s in the new 2-year budget.  Governor Pence and the House budget want to hike the SGO budget from $7.5 million to $12.5 million each year for the next two years, with an escalator clause to go even higher.

Here are the reasons for the questions about whether they are operating within the law and the intentions of the General Assembly:

  • SGO’s are required by law to limit “administrative costs” to 10% (IC 20-51-3-3).  Before a 2013 amendment, the legal requirement was to spend 90% of the donations on scholarships.  The intent is clear that all but 10% of the donations should be used for scholarships.
  • In 2013-14, the four SGO’s combined received contributions of $16.1 million, according to a summary report on the IDOE website prepared August 25, 2014.  “Administrative costs” of 10% would be expected at most to be $1.61 million.  That would leave $14.5 million to be given out as scholarships.
  • The actual amount the four SGO’s reported giving out as scholarships was $11.8 million, which is short of the $14.5 million expectation by $2.7 million.

How do the Scholarship Granting Organizations account for the $2.7 not expended in scholarships?

Here are additional questions that must be answered by the General Assembly before entrusting SGO’s with an enormous 67% increase, from $7.5 million to $12.5 million per year:

Are the SGO’s keeping the $2.7 in the bank to give out next year or did they overspend the “administrative costs”?

       If they claim they are keeping that much money in reserve for the future, does the General Assembly approve of their delaying $2.7 million in unused scholarships?  Haven’t SGO’s used $1.35 in public money for tax credits to raise that money?  Shouldn’t they turn the money around faster and get it to students as intended?

  • Before any additional money goes for this purpose, shouldn’t timelines and guidelines be tightened to guarantee taxpayers that their tax money has been handled appropriately?
  • Since having a previous SGO scholarship became in 2014-15 the biggest path for voucher eligibility, who is monitoring the SGO program that is now the biggest reason vouchers are expanding among students who have always been in private schools? 

Keeping $2.7 million is a lot to have in reserve, if that is where the money is now sitting.  From the very brief August 1st reports that are required from SGO’s, it is hard to know if they have gone over the 10% figure or not.   It is certainly clear the original legislative intent of $14.5 for scholarships did not happen.  It is also clear that the $2.7 million that may be sitting in the SGO bank accounts cost the taxpayers 50% in tax credits, or $1.35 million.

That’s a high taxpayer cost to pay for money that is sitting idle, and sitting idle is the nicest interpretation of what is happening.  If it has been spent on “administrative costs” beyond the 10%, they are breaking the law.

We should all ask legislators to clear up these questions before any additional money is handed over to SGO’s for tax credit scholarships.   

As you discuss this concern with Senators for the budget debate, don’t forget to contact Senators on the Education Committee to oppose HB 1638 as they vote this Wednesday, March 25th.  HB 1638 would give appointed members of the State Board of Education new and unprecedented power to take over an entire school district from its elected school board.  That move is over the top and must be stopped in the Senate.

Indiana School Scholarship Tax Credit Program Report

The full one-page IDOE report on the last three years of the SGO program, dated August 25, 2014, is attached.

The numbers in the section above are totals for the most recent year, 2013-14, for the four SGO’s that reported data.

Another way to review the data is to look at each SGO separately. (For a list of SGO's click here.)

Totals for the three years reported (2011-12, 2012-13 & 2013-14) for each SGO are as follows:

The Institute for Quality Education received $14.0 million in contributions in three years and awarded $9.2 million in scholarships, which is 66% of contributions.  Taking out $1.4 million (10%) for “administrative costs,” they apparently are carrying $3.4 million in reserve which might have gone to scholarships.

The Lutheran SGO of Indiana received $1.75 million in contributions in two years and awarded $1.30 million in scholarships, which is 74% of contributions.  Taking out $.175 million (10%) for “administrative costs,” they apparently are carrying $.275 million in reserve which might have gone to scholarships.

The Sagamore Institute received $8.6 million in contributions in three years and awarded $6.6 million in scholarships, which is 77% of contributions.  Taking out $.86 million (10%) for “administrative costs,” they apparently are carrying $1.1 million in reserve which might have gone to scholarships.

The SGO of Northeast Indiana received $2.5 million in contributions in three years and awarded $1.7 million in scholarships, which is 68% of contributions.  Taking out $.25 million (10%) for “administrative costs,” they apparently are carrying $.55 million in reserve which might have gone to scholarships.

Thus, all four SGO’s have been carrying contributions in reserves for years, without promptly distributing those funds as scholarships.  Is this really what the General Assembly intended? 

Why do SGO’s need more tax money when they aren’t currently distributing all the donations that they are currently getting?

Summary

It is very easy to get lost in all the numbers, but here is the bottom line:

In the most recent year reported (2013-14), the four SGO’s:

  • either held $2.7 million in reserve which were intended for scholarships
  • or else they overspent the legal limit on administrative costs.

In all three years reported (2011-14), the four SGO’s taken together:

  • either held $5.3 million in reserve which were intended for scholarships
  • or else they overspent the 10% legal limit on administrative costs. 

Either option raises serious questions that the General Assembly should investigate before raising the SGO budget by $5 million each year in the new budget, totaling $10 million in the two-year budget. 

The General Assembly should hold SGO’s accountable for the money they have been previously given.  To date, accountability for SGO’s has not reached the high level of accountability given to public schools.   There should be no questions about the use of SGO money.  Entities that are authorizing the use of millions of dollars in tax credits deserve more scrutiny and oversight than they now receive.

Contact Senators

This issue is not in a separate bill, but rather is in the budget.  To register your strong opposition to expanding vouchers by expanding funding for Scholarship Granting Organizations, you need to contact the Senators working on the budget, starting with the Senators on the Subcommittee on School Funding and the Appropriations Committee.

Once again, an easy way to contact members of the committee is to go to the Indiana General Assembly website and click on Committees, then on Standing Committees, and then on the name of the committee.  The pictures of committee members appear on the left.  As you click on each picture, an email form comes up that you can use to register your concerns with each member.

Help stop the expansion of vouchers through SGO’s.   Thanks for your advocacy for public education!

Best wishes,

Vic Smith      vic790@aol.com



Vic’s Statehouse Notes #210 – March 19, 2015 

Dear Friends,

This one needs your close attention:

The State Board of Education wants more power, including a power they have never had before:  the power to take over an entire school district.

They also want school takeovers to come quicker, in four years rather than the current six years, a proposal that the General Assembly has rejected three times (2009, 2012 and 2013).  This bill has gone further than the previous efforts.

These are key provisions of Representative Behning’s House Bill 1638, which was given a public hearing yesterday (March 18th) in the Senate Education Committee.  In a meeting that started at 1:30pm, the hearing on HB 1638 started at 4:15 and lasted until 7:15.

I was unable to attend the hearing on HB 1638 when it was in the House, and it was not until yesterday’s hearing that I realized that language in the bill would allow State Board takeovers of a complete school corporation.  This deserves the attention of every local school district in Indiana and every advocate for local control of our schools.

You have until the Senate Education Committee votes on HB 1638 on Wednesday, March 25th, to let the Senators on the committee know that the State Board in its current condition should not be entrusted with new powers, let alone the unprecedented step to empower them to take over an entire school corporation.

The Power to Take Over School Corporations

The 1999 accountability law, Public Law 221, was based on a school-level reform movement.  School improvement plans in the original draft bill went from the school directly to approval by the local school board.  Superintendents had to scramble in the 1999 legislative process to insert any voice into the school’s plan.

When Dr. Bennett convinced the State Board to change category labels to A-F letter grades, he included letter grades for school districts, but the State Board had power to intervene only at the school level.  In his 2012 campaign for reelection, Dr. Bennett made State Board power to take over school corporations one of his major policy positions.

I always thought that was one of the reasons he lost decisively.  The prospect of a state takeover of local school districts was an extremely unpopular thought in 2012, and I believe it still is.

House Bill 1638: What Does It Say?

Tucked among sections redesigning the timeline for school takeovers from six years to four years is a new section giving new powers to the State Board over school corporations which remain in the F category for four years: (p. 6, line 6 of the latest draft)

“Notwithstanding any other law, if the state board determines that taking at least one (1) of the actions listed in subsection (b) will improve the school corporation, the state board may take the action listed under subsection (b) that the state board determines is appropriate.” 

The list of actions is on page 5, line 34:

“(1) Assigning a special management team to operate all or part of the school corporation. (2) Assigning a special management team to develop a transformation zone plan and assist the school corporation with implementing the plan. (3) Implementing the department’s recommendation for improving the school corporation. (4) Filing a petition with the distressed unit appeal board established under IC 6-1.1-20.3 seeking to have the school corporation designated as a distressed political subdivision.  The distressed unit appeal board may designate the school corporation as a distressed political subdivision under IC 6-1.1-20.3-6.5 solely on the basis of the petition of the state board notwithstanding IC 6-1.1-20.3-6.”

The State Board would take charge.  The high stakes consequences for student performance on the new standards and the brand new tests would now include the potential demise of the entire school corporation.

Should the State Board Get More Powers for Quicker Takeovers?

Representative Behning said yes.  As sponsor of HB 1638, he introduced the bill by saying it was brought to him by the State Board of Education and by the Governor’s Office.  As all would know by now, that is a powerful partnership.

State Board Member Dan Elsener said yes.  Representative Behning called on him to present the bill. 

Senator Rogers of Gary said no.  In a long statement to Representative Behning and to Dan Elsener, she explained her opposition to this bill, saying that she believes Gary is “in the crosshairs to be the district that the State Board will come in and take over”.  She described her complete opposition to the way the State Board decided to close Dunbar-Pulaski School last week at the State Board meeting, saying that Dunbar-Pulaski was closed with no plan to help the students so that students would go to Gary Roosevelt, the takeover school run by Edison, whose enrollment went from 1200 pre-takeover to 200 now, as well as the Charter School of the Dunes that is lacking enrollment.  She said the students who transfer to those two schools would not be in the enrollment count for Gary schools, further depressing the funding for Gary.  She said the State Board action was taken with no plan for where 700 students would go.  She said that a State Board decision to close a school should require a unanimous vote.  The contentious vote to close last week was 6-4.

Chad Timmerman, Governor Pence’s education policy director, said yes, along with representatives of the State Board, Hoosiers for Quality Education and the Indiana Chamber of Commerce. 

The director of Evansville’s transformation zone testified about their success in Evansville.

Representative Vernon Smith said no.  He said that in 25 years in the General Assembly, he had never before testified against a bill after it left the House, but this bill was a “wolf in sheep’s clothing” and is revolutionary in its nature.  He spoke passionately against the bill for twenty minutes, giving a line by line explanation of the problems, saying it is not really about transformation zones but rather about takeovers.

Nathan Williamson and Rachael Davidson, IDOE staff members, said no, bringing elaborate data to the committee about the Indiana Department’s success in turning schools around, beginning in the first year a school is labeled D or F.  They said after one year, 61,300 students moved from D/F schools to A/B/C schools, after a net turnaround count of 103 schools.   They said that takeovers don’t work, and “accelerating the timeline would be a duplication.”

Others were emphatic in saying no, including representatives of ISBA, IAPSS, AFT-Indiana, ISTA and myself.

My testimony is attached.  I focused on two questions:

  1. Given the record of defiance of the State Board to comply with the General Assembly’s law to produce a new A-F system by November, 2013, should the General Assembly entrust the State Board with more power?  I urged the committee not to reward the State Board for dragging their feet on bringing an improved A-F system by giving them more power.
  2. Should the General Assembly take away more local control from local school boards and give it to the State Board or should the General Assembly instead reign in the powers of a State Board whose efforts to take over schools have led to community upheavals, costly contracts, endless controversies and litigation?  Do you trust the State Board to take over more and more schools quicker and quicker as this bill envisions? 

It’s Your Turn

Do you want the General Assembly to give the State Board unprecedented powers to take over schools and school corporations?  If not, you need to contact Senators with your concerns, starting with the Senate Education Committee who will vote on this bill next Wednesday, March 25th, at their 1:30 meeting.

One easy way to contact members of the committee is to go to the Indiana General Assembly website and click on Committees, then on Standing Committees, and then on Senate Education.  The pictures of committee members appear on the left. As you click on each picture, an email form comes up that you can use to state your concerns to each member.

If you believe that we don’t need more State takeovers and that local control is important for strong public schools, it is time for action in opposition to House Bill 1638.

Thanks for your advocacy for public education!

Best wishes,

Vic Smith      vic790@aol.com

 



Vic’s Statehouse Notes #209 – March 17, 2015   

Dear Friends,

Governor Pence and the House leadership want to spend $10 million more in the next two-year budget for Scholarship Granting Organizations to expand private school vouchers.

In the same budget, they want to cut complexity funding for districts which serve low income students.  The Indianapolis Public Schools, for example, would lose $13 million next year and another $19 million in the second year of the budget due to the complexity formula cuts.

This trade off should not stand.  Using enhanced scholarships to attract low income families to private schools while cutting funds for the public schools that now serve them is outrageous.

It advances a policy of defunding the services for low income students in public schools all over Indiana, both urban and rural, so that class sizes go up and parents will feel compelled to consider private schools for their children, where class sizes are lower because private schools can control how many students they enroll.  Simultaneously, the budget lifts funding for vouchers and for SGO school scholarships which give a student eligibility for a voucher in the following school year.

The policy pushes families out of public schools to escape drastic budget cuts and pulls families in to the private schools with beefed up voucher deals. 

This is how Governor Pence and his private school allies plan to slowly drain public school enrollment and transfer nearly all students to private schools funded by public taxpayers. 

The $10 million funding hike for SGO tax credit scholarships must be stopped in the Senate budget.  The $10 million must be redirected to mitigate the budget losses to districts serving low income students.

Let the Senators on the Appropriations Committee, and indeed all Senators, know where you stand:  Don’t expand vouchers by giving $10 million more to Scholarship Granting Organization tax credit scholarships.  Then use the $10 million to restore funding for districts serving low income students.

The same message could be said about the other better known proposal to remove the $4800 cap on vouchers for grades 1-8, a proposal LSA says would cost taxpayers $3.8 million each year.

Scholarship Granting Organization (SGO) School Scholarships:  How do they work?

Scholarship Granting Organizations are systematically turning nearly every private school student into a tuition obligation for taxpayers.  Over half of all private school vouchers now go to private school students who have never enrolled in an Indiana public school.  Yet public money is paying their tuition.

The SGO program has changed the purpose of vouchers.  No longer are vouchers about giving low-income parents a choice to transfer to a private school.  Now they are about having taxpayers pay tuition for students whose parents decided long ago to have their child get a religious school or a private school education.

There are five SGO’s in Indiana:  1) Elkhart County Community Foundation; 2) Institute for Quality Education, (Indianapolis); 3) School Scholarship Granting Organization of Northeast Indiana (Fort Wayne); 4) Sagamore Institute Scholarships for Education Choice (Indianapolis); and 5) Lutheran Scholarship Granting Organization of Indiana (Fort Wayne).  Complete information about each SGO as listed on the website of the Indiana Department of Education is attached.

The Sweetest Deal in the Indiana Tax Code

The SGO program is the sweetest deal in the Indiana tax code.  Those who want to support private schools and simultaneously reduce their payment for Indiana taxes simply have to give a donation to an Indiana Scholarship Granting Organizations (SGO).  Exactly 50% of the donation becomes a credit to pay the Indiana tax payment.  If $100 is owed for state income taxes, donating $200 to an SGO will pay the state tax obligation while helping SGO’s pay tuition scholarships for religious and private schools.

Here is the surprising part of the deal:  There is no individual limit on how big a donation can be given.  Whatever large or small donation is made, 50% of that amount can be written off the Indiana tax bill.  The only limit is the total statewide cap, but that cap has never been reached, and Governor Pence wants to raise the cap again this year and build in an escalator clause so that the cap is never reached.

The sky will be the limit for the 50% tax credit.

Many high income individuals who support private schools have found this tax credit and have taken advantage of it.  At the March 5th public hearing on the Senate budget, LSA data was cited that 62% of the donations to Scholarship Granting Organizations have come from taxpayers earning more than $500,000.

There is no similar tax credit to help K-12 public schools.  There is a well known tax credit to help universities in Indiana but it has an individual limit of $200 producing a maximum tax credit of $100, numbers which are doubled for couples filing jointly.  Similar limits for SGO tax credits should be considered by our legislators.

The picture is clear:  High income taxpayers who want to promote vouchers and private schools can give large donations to the Scholarship Granting Organizations and have 50% of their donation pay for their tax obligation to the state of Indiana.

A Second Sweet Surprise:  Scholarship Granting Organizations Can Keep 10%

The Scholarship Granting Organizations under the law passed in 2009 have been required to give 90% of their donations as scholarships to students who are attending private schools.  These are called “School Scholarships” and should not be confused with “Choice Scholarships”, which is the name give to vouchers paid directly from the state treasury to the private school family and their private school.

Under the law, 10% of all donations can be kept by the SGO “for administrative costs”.  (IC 20-51-3-3)  This turns out to be a substantial amount of money now that the Governor wants to move the budgeted amount to $12.5 million, the amount of public money budgeted to pay for the tax credit.  Since the tax credit is for 50% of the donation, donations must reach $25 million before the public money would be fully expended.

With a potential of $25 million in donations, the SGO’s must give out 90% in school scholarships, or a total of $22.5 million.  At the same time, they can keep $2.5 million for their own salaries and expenses.  Not a bad deal when you consider that taxpayers are providing the incentive for this whole enterprise by funding the 50% tax credit!

This is the second way that SGO’s are the sweetest deal in the Indiana tax code.  Taking 10% off the top will fund well-paid jobs for those who are working for SGO’s to promote private school scholarships.

Cuts in Complexity Funding

Complexity funding, once known as “at-risk” funding, has provided extra funding for many years to districts based on their count of free and reduced lunch students, an indicator of low income.  Nearly $300 million in the House budget was shifted from complexity funding, which goes to districts with low income students, to foundation funding, which goes to districts for all students equally.  The net result reduced funding for districts serving large numbers of free lunch students.  The districts serving poor families will get poorer in the House plan.

A $10 million expansion of SGO scholarships is totally wrong when districts serving low income students are being handed budget cuts.  Do they think low income students need less money to succeed?

The Senators can fix this problem in their budget, but they will have to hear from a large number of public school advocates for this to happen.  SGO’s are not well known, and this $10 million expansion could easily slip through unless constituents shine a light on it for members of the Senate.

It is time to contact your Senator, Senators on the Appropriation Committee or all Senators about SGO’s and voucher expansion.

Say yes to better funding for public schools and no to more money for private school vouchers.

Thanks for your advocacy for public education!

Best wishes,

Vic Smith      vic790@aol.com

Vic’s Statehouse Notes #207 – March 11, 2015

Dear Friends,

Yesterday (March 10th) a long public hearing was held by Senator Mishler’s Sub-Committee on School Funding.  The budget bill passed by the House is now under review in the Senate.  Many came to ask for a reversal in a major cut in complexity funding which would hurt low income students.  I and others addressed voucher expansion.

The House budget would expand private school vouchers yet again in two ways:

1) The budget would expand Scholarship Granting Organization tax credit scholarships from $7.5 million to $12.5 million, with an escalator clause for automatic increases into the future.  The obvious cost to taxpayers would be $5 million more each year for two years, but the hidden costs described below cost nearly $20 million last year.  This little known program is the biggest factor in funding vouchers for private school students who have always been in private schools, which creates a huge new expense for taxpayers.

2) The $4800 cap on K-8 vouchers would be removed so that the state would pay whatever the full tuition costs for the private or parochial school.  The LSA estimate said this would cost $3.8 million more per year.

Public school advocates should bring their opposition to both of these voucher expansion measures to the attention of the Senators on the Appropriations Committee and indeed to all Senators.

These efforts to expand taxpayer funded private and religious education for students who have always gone to private schools must be vigorously opposed in the Senate.  Let the Senators know you oppose both of these expensive measures to expand vouchers when teacher professional development is still not being funded at all.

Expanding SGO Scholarships

The 2013 voucher expansion sparked a huge legislative battle, but when all was said and done, the biggest expansion giving vouchers to the most students who were already going to private schools came via provisions already in the 2011 voucher law.  The annual financial report on Choice Scholarships issued on February 23, 2015 by the IDOE Office of School Finance gave the details:

New vouchers given out in 2014-15 totaled 10,524, bringing the grand total now to 29,148.

Nearly 80% (79.6%) of the 10,524 new vouchers went to students with no previous record of attending an Indiana public school, totaling 8379.

Only 20.4% of the new vouchers (2,145) went to students who transferred from public schools to private schools, the original purpose of the voucher program as it was sold to the General Assembly.

Of the 10,524 new vouchers, having a previous SGO scholarship was the pathway to get a new voucher for 5667 students, or 54%.

The three other pathways for voucher eligibility (siblings, F school, and special ed) only accounted for 46% of the new vouchers.  Thus, getting an SGO scholarship is the biggest pathway to voucher eligibility.

Of the 8379 new voucher students who have always been in private schools, 4757 or 57% became eligible only because they received an SGO scholarship the previous year.

Multiplying the average voucher amount used by LSA ($4092) times the 4757 students with no record of attendance at an Indiana public school, the cost of private school students getting vouchers for the first time by this technique cost Indiana taxpayers $19.4 million in new tuition payments for private and parochial school attendance.

The picture is clear: Getting a scholarship from a Scholarship Granting Organization has become the biggest method to gaining eligibility for a Choice Scholarship.  The law says eligibility for a choice scholarship (a voucher) is available to all students who had an SGO scholarship in the previous year.  This has become an expensive provision in state law, allowing several thousand students who did not qualify for vouchers to get a voucher by getting an SGO scholarship and waiting a year.

Currently, over half (50.4%) of all voucher students have never attended an Indiana public school.  Mitch Daniels policy was “Try public school first.”  His policy has been jettisoned, and now through SGO scholarships, voucher proponents are trying to get every current private school student to be eligible for a voucher.

Income eligibility is higher for an SGO school scholarship than for a voucher.  An SGO school scholarship can go to families at 200% of the income for reduced lunch, or about $85,000 for a family of four.

Now in this House budget, the SGO scholarship fund has been expanded from $7.5 million to $12.5 million, with an escalator clause to further expand automatically in the future if the cap is reached.

This must not happen.  This is simply giving vouchers not to those low-income families who wanted to make a choice but to families who had already made the choice and now just want the taxpayers to pay for their child’s private or religious education.

Contact your legislators about the expansion of SGO scholarships.  Tell them to hold the line and to resist expanding SGO funding any further, and certainly not with automatic increases into the future.  Tell them this is the biggest path to vouchers for students who have always been in private schools.

Why is that a priority when many public school districts are being cut by a reduction in complexity funding?

If this voucher movement had started with a bill that said taxpayers would now pay $19.4 million in relief of private school parents paying for their child’s private school tuition, the bill would have had great resistance.  The $19.4 figure after all is nearly twice the preschool funding that many are now advocating for.  It is more than Indiana budgets each year for summer school ($18.36 million) and for gifted and talented programs ($12.5 million).

But now $19.4 million is only a part of the tab for vouchers, the part made possible by allowing students who have always gone to private schools to get an SGO scholarship one year and then get a voucher the next year.  This is only going to get worse for the taxpayer until nearly all current private school students become the responsibility of taxpayers.

Write your legislators that taxpayers should not have to keep picking up the tab for students who have always gone to private schools!

Taking the Cap Off the Voucher Payments for Grades 1-8

The second voucher expansion in the House budget is to remove the $4800 cap on vouchers and have taxpayers pay the entire tuition for the private school.  The Legislative Service Agency has reported in the fiscal note that 6,378 vouchers have been limited by the $4800 cap.  If the cap is removed, LSA said that the cost is estimated to be $3.8 million next year. 

If you divide the $3.8 million cost estimate by the 6,378 vouchers impacted, the result shows that each voucher would be worth an additional $595.  This is money that presumably has previously been paid by the parent, and now it would be paid by the taxpayers.

It is a really nice thing for Governor Pence to want to give private school parents an extra $595, but public school parents have also asked for help for many years to pay for textbook rental.  Many parents pay $200 per student for annual textbook rental, and for parents with several children, the totals add up fast.

Why should private school parents get a financial break when public school parents don’t?

This $3.8 million is a financial break for private school parents.  Private schools won’t get additional funds via this money unless they raise their tuition.

What is to stop private schools from raising tuition to get more funding when they know that Indiana taxpayers are going to pay whatever they charge?

Nothing is in place to stop tuition increases.

Should this plan to remove the cap on voucher payments be accompanied by a plan to monitor and control tuition increases at private schools?

Yes, definitely.

Write your legislators that taxpayers should not have to pay for a blank check for private school tuition increases!

Contact Senators to Oppose Both Paths to Voucher Expansion

Senator Mishler chairs the Subcommittee on School Funding in the Senate.  Republican members of his committee are Senator Charbonneau and Senator Eckerty.  Democratic members are Senator Rogers and Senator Tallian.  They were the one who listened to nearly four hours of testimony yesterday about school budget concerns.

My testimony yesterday opposing voucher expansion and on the need to expand total funding is attached.

Senators need to hear from you about your opposition to voucher expansion.  Messages to the five Senators on the School Funding Subcommittee would be the best way to start. 

Other Senators on the Appropriations Committee in addition to those on the subcommittee would be the next to contact:  Senator Kenley, chair; Republican Senators Boots, Hershman, Miller, Waltz and Yoder and Democratic Senators Stoops and Taylor.  Finally, contact your Senator or any other Senator about voucher opposition.

There is no bill to expand vouchers this session.  Governor Pence’s push to expand vouchers is all being done in the budget bill, HB 1001.  The budget has an enormous number of provisions in it, and the voucher provisions can sweep in unless the public makes it a major issue.  That is where you come in. 

Let them know you are watching and that you oppose vouchers.  The two voucher proposals over two years would cost about $18 million, $5 million each year for SGO expansion and $3.8 million each year to remove the $4800 voucher cap.  Ask the Senators to redirect that $18 million to help restore the cuts to low income complexity students.

Your messages opposing voucher expansion are vital.  Thanks for your advocacy for public education!

Best wishes,

Vic Smith      vic790@aol.com


Vic’s Statehouse Notes
#206 – March 3, 2015

Dear Friends,

The 2015 budget was passed by the House on February 24th calling for a 2.3% increase each year in K-12 tuition support.  Governor Pence called the funding increase for public schools “dramatic.”

Careful review shows that the increase can be called dramatic only in comparison to Governor Pence’s own paltry public school funding proposal.  By historical standards, a 2.3% increase for public school funding is still very low.

By the standards of previous General Assemblies, current legislators continue to give a low priority to public school funding.

Details of the Budget for Public Schools:  Then and Now

The House budget raised the tuition support budget by 2.3% in the first year and by another 2.3% in the second year.  In dollar terms, the first year is up by $156 million and the second year by $157 million. 

Adding the two years together means that total new money increased by $469 million.  This is reached by adding $156 million in the first year to $156 million to extend the first year increase in the second year.  Then to lift the second year by 2.3%, add on $157 million.  ($156 M + $156 M + $157 M = $469 M)

Some legislators like to add all this up for two years and call it a 4.6% increase over two years.  It is time to use all that math you were required to take in school to keep all this straight.

Governor Pence considered this a “dramatic” increase because his budget only endorsed a 2.0% increase in the first year and a 1.0% increase in the second year.  In dollar terms his increase was $134 million in the first year plus $134 million in the second year and $67 million in the second year to lift the total by 1%.  That makes a total of $335 million in new money. ($134 M + $134 M + $67 M = $335 M)

The House is funding K-12 tuition support at a level $134 million more than the Governor recommended. ($469 M - $335 M = $134 M)

“Dramatic” in the view of Governor Pence.

But not by past standards of support for public education in Indiana.

Comparisons with Past Budgets since the 1999 Indiana Accountability Law

A 2.3% increase in school funding may sound extravagant to Governor Pence, but 2.3% is very low by historical standards.  Here is the sequence of school funding increases prior to the Great Recession.

This is the budget history for Indiana for education since the bipartisan school accountability reforms were passed in 1999.  These are not numbers or percentages that I calculated.   I copied them right off the school funding formula summary page for each budget made available to the public each session:

TUITION SUPPORT FUNDING INCREASES IN INDIANA BUDGETS SINCE 1999

(Source:  Legislative Service Agency School Funding Formula Documents)

1999 BUDGET:

FY 2000                                                                                    +4.7%

FY 2001                                                                                    +4.7%

2001 BUDGET:

FY 2002                                                                                    +3.5%

FY 2003                                                                                    +3.5%

2003 BUDGET:

FY 2004                                                                                    +3.3%

FY 2005                                 ($5.87 Billion)                             +2.9%

2005 BUDGET:

FY 2006                                    ($5.94 Billion)                           +2.6%

FY 2007                                    ($6.02 Billion)                           +2.4%

2007 BUDGET:

FY 2008                                     ($6.27 Billion)                          +4.1%

FY 2009                                   ($6.48 Billion *)             +3.6%

2009 BUDGET: (June 2009 during the Great Recession)

FY 2010                                   ($6.55 Billion  **)                       +1.1%

FY 2011                                   ($6.57 Billion  **)                       +0.3%

2011 BUDGET: (April 2011 during the Great Recession)

FY 2012                                  ($6.28 Billion)                -4.5%

            FY 2013                                  ($6.34 Billion  ***)                    +1.0%

2013 BUDGET:

FY 2014                         ($6.62 Billion)                         +2.0%

FY 2015                                     ($6.69 Billion)                         +1.0%

Footnotes:

*included Federal stimulus/stabilization funding of $.61 Billion

**reduced by $.30 Billion in Dec. 2009 due to revenue shortfall and by $.327 Billion during 2010-11

***adding the full day kindergarten line item to the formula during the 2013 General Assembly raised the actual FY2013 base expenditures to $6.49B.

It is readily seen with a quick glance at this history that prior to the Great Recession (2009) and passage of the historic voucher bill (2011), there was no year was as low as 2.3%.  Even during more difficult economic times when there was no $2 billion surplus, like 2003, public school funding was given a higher priority and a bigger increase than the 2.3% increase in the current House budget. 

In these times with a large surplus, why can’t our legislative leaders invest in public education in the same way the General Assembly did in the first ten years of Indiana’s accountability law era?

Categorical Line Item Funding

Besides the tuition support funding for public schools, every budget details categorical funding for specific programs like summer school and textbooks for free and reduced lunch students.  I have attached a summary of several categorical line items, showing whether they went up, went down or stayed the same.

After you review the attached list, ponder with me the following questions along with other questions that may leap out to you in this list:

  • Why does the new fund for Turnaround Support staff for the State Board deserve $5.0 million when the Senator Ford Technology Fund for important technology improvements gets only $3.09 million?
  • After all the legislation about effective and highly effective teachers, why hasn’t a budget for Professional Development for Indiana teachers been restored?
  • Why has the budget for the Indiana Charter School Board been lifted from $500,000 to $850,000?
  • Why have mandated programs for English Language Learners been funded at only $5.25 million when the cost for ESL teachers across Indiana far exceeds that amount?
  • Why have free textbooks for low income students been funded at $39 million when the need is closer to $100 million?
  • How can districts serving large numbers of free lunch students and ESL students make up the shortfalls for textbooks and ESL programs when their complexity funding is also being cut in this budget?

Categorical funding line items deserve more attention than they generally get.  I urge you to contact legislators about any one of these items that concerns you, as well as about the need to lift the 2.3% for tuition support.

What Will the Senators Do?

The budget is now in the hands of the Senate.  Senators are already working on their budget plan including the plan for funding public schools.  Every knowledgeable observer I have talked to expects the Senate to come in with a funding level less than the 2.3% proposed by the House.

Here’s where you come in.  Public schools need more, not less, than 2.3%!  The minimum increase in the decade prior to the Great Recession was 2.4%, as you can see in the table above.  The historic average of this funding table (deleting the two budgets of the Great Recession) years is a 3.19% annual increase in school funding. 

Raising the increase to 2.4% this year would cost the an extra $15 million in the budget over two years, money that could help mitigate the damage done to low income districts when funding for complexity students was reduced in the House budget.

As grassroots constituents in support of public education, contact your Senator or all Senators to ask them to raise the level to 2.4% or higher, which would at least match the low point of support in Indiana’s commitment to public schools in Indiana during the decade after the accountability law was passed.

Or will they tell you the historic commitment to public schools in Indiana is gone?  Has it been killed by the voucher program and the marketplace of school choice?

I urge you to contact Senators about these crucial funding questions about tuition support and about categorical line items.

We need your participation.  Thanks for your advocacy for strong funding for public education!

Best wishes,

Vic Smith      vic790@aol.com


Vic’s Statehouse Notes #205 – February 22, 2015  

Dear Friends,

On Thursday (February 19th), the Senate Appropriations Committee modified Senate Bill 470, a damaging bill that would have allowed voucher schools to ignore ISTEP and instructed the State Board set up an alternative school letter grade system just for private voucher schools based on a test of their choice.   This bill which obviously favored voucher schools over public schools was amended Thursday. 

The amendment approved turned the whole bill into a summer study committee proposal that would study “issues related to the development by the state board of education of acceptable tests from which all schools may select a test that meets the requirements of IC 20-32,” which is the article in Indiana law on student assessments. 

Members of the Senate Appropriations Committee should be thanked for their actions to amend the bill, which in its original form would have reduced accountability for voucher schools without equal treatment for public schools.

Senate Bill 470

The news that Senate Bill 470 passed in the February 11th Senate Education Committee on a party line vote surprised and angered public school advocates.  The bill when passed by the committee clearly favored private voucher schools, giving them an opportunity to use an alternative “norm-referenced” test in place of ISTEP and not giving the same opportunity to public schools.   Then the bill went further to empower the State Board to establish a school letter grade only for private voucher schools based on the alternative assessment allowed for voucher schools.

The bill had passed the Senate Education Committee 7 to 3.  All Republicans had voted yes; all Democrats had voted no.

By the time SB 470 got to the Senate Appropriations Committee meeting on February 19th, the last meeting of the committee for the first part of the session, the majority clearly saw the need to back up and give this concept further study.  Amendment 4 written by Senator Kenley to study assessments this summer was offered by Senator Schneider, the bill’s sponsor, in his presentation of the bill before the committee.  The amendment was accepted by consent.  The amended bill to study assessments this summer passed 10-3.

Private school voucher advocates testified on February 11th that they don’t like the way Indiana standards and ISTEP assessments control the curriculum and instruction in their private schools.  Public school parents and educators have complained about the same problem in public schools. 

Private schools have an option that public schools don’t have.  If they simply decline the public tax money and withdraw from the voucher program, then they are free to use any assessment whatsoever to measure student achievement.  Instead, they want to change the terms of accountability that they signed on to in the 2011 voucher legislation by changing to an optional test, but they still want to keep the voucher money.  This backward step on accountability should be a non-starter.

One would think that Governor Pence would see the crucial nature of accountability for private schools in the state’s voucher program and resist their overture to opt out of ISTEP.  The Governor, however, didn’t do that.  Instead, he strongly endorsed the original version of Senate Bill 470, instructing his representative to support the bill and to say private voucher schools should be able “choose their own test.”

Once again Governor Pence has confirmed that he favors private schools over public schools.  He has apparently not realized that in the marketplace of school choice that he helped to create in Indiana, all schools whether public or private receiving public tax dollars must be treated equally and fairly.

The language of the amendment to have a summer study on “acceptable tests from which all schools may select a test” that meets state requirements fits well with Senate Bill 566 sponsored by Senator Mishler and Senator Kenley which contemplates a new kind of assessment system.  Senate Bill 566 is still moving in the Senate.

Committee meetings have now ended for the first part of the session.  All bills must pass a third reading floor vote by Wednesday, February 25th. 

Thanks to all who contacted legislators about making changes to the original version of Senate 470.  You have been heard.    

Thanks for your advocacy for strong public education!

Best wishes,

Vic Smith      vic790@aol.com

Vic’s Statehouse Notes #204 – February 18, 2015 

Dear Friends,

The Senate voted yesterday on Senate Bill 1 to remove the State Superintendent as chair of the State Board.  The bill passed 33 to 17.  It now goes to the House, which passed a different version on the same subject in House Bill 1609.

After all the efforts to convince Senators that voters picked the State Superintendent as chair of the State Board and only voters in the next election should have the power to select a different chair, the bill passed with the opposition of 7 Republicans and all 10 Democrats.

Regarding House Bill 1639, subject of the previous “Notes #203”, which proposed giving the State Board an independent computer system to handle student records, Chairman Behning said at Tuesday’s meeting that he got the bill from an out-of-state source from a state where the State Board was the entity already handling data, and he didn’t intend to give the State Board a new set of powers.  He said he would bring an amendment to put the Indiana Department of Education in charge of the parent testing information his bill envisions.  He held House Bill 1639 without a vote.  It is now scheduled for a vote tomorrow, Thursday, February 19th, at the final House Education Committee of the initial portion of the General Assembly.

Chairman Behning has not often acknowledged publicly that his bills come from out-of-state sources, but on Tuesday in front of all present, that is what he said.

Senate Bill 1

Over a thousand people came to Monday’s Statehouse rally to try to convince legislators that now is not the time to remove the elected State Superintendent as chair of the State Board.  That change should be made by voters, if that is their will, in the 2016 election.  Action by the House and the Senate on this topic usurps the power of the voters to direct policies by electing officials who can hold the powers given to them by the electorate until end of the term.

The General Assembly, in favoring Governor Pence in his fundamental policy debate with Superintendent Ritz over whether public support of private schools will dominate the future, has proceeded at the Governor’s request to approve bills removing the State Superintendent as chair of State Board, a power of office that the State Superintendent has had since 1913.  This move is part of the deconstruction of public education in Indiana, a cornerstone of our democracy and our economy which so many have done so much to advance over the past 150 years.  Jettisoning strong support for public education seems to be on Governor Pence’s list for ways to mark Indiana’s 200th birthday.

This episode marks a deep tectonic shift in the powers of the voter and the relationship of elections to the exercise of power.  From this point on, will any elected official be able to carry out powers of the office as they stood at the time the voters elected the official?  Or will those elected officials be “Ritzed” to the point of losing legal powers they had when elected even before the next election?  Will there now be a move to eliminate other officials elected independently by the voters?  Will more and more power be concentrated in the office of the Governor?  Will education policy now become the dominant issue in the election campaign for the office of Governor since trying to change education policy by electing a new State Superintendent has been shown to be a path with no power?

Seventeen Senators heard the call to leave any changes in the State Board chair to the voters in the next election.  They are Republican Senators  Alting, Becker, Delph, Glick, Head, Leising, and Tomes and   Democrat Senators Arnold, Breaux, Broden, Lanane, Mrvan, Randolph, Rogers, Stoops, Tallian and Taylor.

These seventeen should all be thanked for standing up to the Governor and the leadership of the Senate in this dispute whereby the power of voters in Indiana has been diminished.  It remains to be seen in 2016 whether the voters will remember this reduction in the power of voters when votes are cast for members of the House and Senate. 

Advocates for public education need long memories to recall who supports public education on key votes and who doesn’t.

Senate Bill 1 changes the State Board membership from 11 to 9 and cuts the Governor’s appointments to four instead of the current ten.  Two would be appointed by the House Speaker and two by the President Pro Tem of the Senate.  The State Superintendent would be the ninth member. 

These are the key differences between Senate Bill 1 and House Bill 1609 which made no changes in the number of members or the powers of appointment.  The Governor would no doubt want the House bill to prevail to keep his current powers intact.  The Senate may have other ideas.  Stay tuned.

Thank you for your advocacy for wise policies, for the power of voters in our republic, and for strong public education!

Best wishes,

Vic Smith      vic790@aol.com

 


Vic’s Statehouse Notes
#203 – February 16, 2015

Dear Friends,

Thanks to all who made today’s Statehouse rally a rousing success!  It was a great afternoon!

There is, however, no let up in the Statehouse battles over public education.  The entire Senate is scheduled to vote tomorrow on Senate Bill 1, removing the State Superintendent as chair of the State Board.   Let your voice be heard!

That’s not all; the salvos keep coming.  A new bill deserves your immediate attention and action tonight to contact members of the House Education Committee:


 

House Bill 1639, scheduled for a hearing tomorrow (Tuesday, Feb. 17th) at 8:30am, would put control of a new system to expand access to student records in the hands of the State Board, not the Indiana Department of Education.  For the first time, it would make the State Board an administrative agency, handling student data functions that have always been controlled by the Indiana Department of Education.  The expanded data access through this data warehouse will cost $4.1 million as projected by the non-partisan Legislative Services Agency, requiring an independent computer staff for the State Board with a new stand alone computer system.  The duplication of services is obvious.

 

The $4.1 million price tag is more than the current entire annual budget for the State Board of $3 million and of course far more than the annual budget for professional development, which stands at zero.

 

This is a major salvo in the battle to move functions out of the Indiana Department of Education under the control of State Superintendent Ritz and into the domain of the State Board controlled by Governor Pence.

 

The bill would also have the State Board prepare and require student and parent surveys to evaluate certificated staff at an estimated cost of up to $4.8 million per year.

 

Rep. Behning has scheduled House Bill 1639 for a hearing on Tuesday Feb. 17th at 8:30am in the House Education Committee in Room 156-C.  It is also listed in the agenda for Wed., Feb. 18th at 8:30am in the same room.

 

Before that time, I hope all who believe that student data is too sensitive and too important to become a political football in the Governor’s power grab will contact members of the House Education Committee with a simple message:  Delete the sections of HB 1639 giving the State Board a data warehouse and requiring student surveys of staff.

 

Expanded Access

 

The bill purports to improve parent access to student data and to help transfer data among schools.  If that is truly a bigger priority problem in a state that has no money for teacher professional development, lawmakers could give the $4.1 million for computer work required by this bill to the Indiana Department of Education, the current trustee of student records.

 

This bill doesn’t do that.  It gives the authority and the resources to the State Board, a policy making board that now for the first time would become an administrative agency with complete control over student records.  This would be a monumental shift in authority and makes the bill a power grab to boost the control of the State Board over the IDOE.

 

This bill as well as House Bill 1486 would be the first efforts to have the Indiana General Assembly assign an administrative function to the State Board.  The State Board is authorized by law as a policy board.  It is hard to believe that the General Assembly really wants to make the State Board an administrative agency as well, setting up total confusion about the administrative roles of IDOE in relation to the State Board.

 

The Risk of HB1639

 

In this proposed bill, Rep. Behning and the Governor are playing with fire.  If the parents and teachers of Indiana’s students come to believe for one minute that student test data are being used as a wedge in a political dispute between Governor Pence and State Superintendent Ritz, the trust built up over two decades that student data is being handled impartially and appropriately could vanish overnight.  If parents sense that the data of their students are being used for political purposes, they may well demand that any test results be given only to them and for use by their local school, and not for state use.  Such a step would collapse the entire accountability movement that this General Assembly has slowly built since the A+ program of 1987. 

 

There must be no hint of political maneuvering related to student test data.  This part of the bill has politics written all over it and must be turned down or withdrawn.

 

There is no reason to involve any agency other than the Indiana Department of Education in student records.  IDOE’s work in handling student data has been accurate and above reproach.  Any claim to the contrary has been made for political purposes to support a takeover of data by the State Board, to further undermine the authority of Superintendent Ritz.  This bill puts at risk the faith and trust of parents in state authorities that has taken years to establish.

 

The Development of Parent Trust in State Records

 

I am old enough to remember well a time when Indiana did not have a state test.  When I began my career in Indiana in the 1960’s, all testing was local testing, and local parents and teachers could assess the progress of their students.  There was great mistrust in that era that state test results kept in the Statehouse might be used inappropriately by people that did not have local ties and might not have the best interests of the students in mind.  It took years of patient reassurance that the privacy and sanctity of state test scores would be maintained.  State tests were introduced in the mid-1980’s and student ID numbers allowing the state to track individual students by number were introduced around 2002, based on the availability of high speed computers.  Approval of that step required tremendous trust on the part of parents.  This bill could put that trust in jeopardy overnight.

 

Why does anyone other than IDOE need to supervise student data?  They don’t.   I have observed over many years that the Indiana Department of Education takes very seriously the trust that is placed in them to maintain the accuracy and the privacy of student data.  

 

Please contact members of the House Education Committee and other House members as soon as possible.  Of course, if you read this after tomorrow’s hearing, it would still help if they know of your opposition to HB 1639 in the days ahead.

 

Student data must not be made part of a political tug-of-war, but this bill does that.  HB 1639 is unwise public policy in two areas:  giving the State Board control of an expensive data warehouse and requiring student surveys to evaluate staff at a projected cost of up to $4.8 million.  Let legislators know how you feel.

 

Thank you for your advocacy for wise policies and strong public education!

Best wishes, 

Vic Smith      vic790@aol.com


Vic’s Statehouse Notes
#201 – February 12, 2015 

Dear Friends,

Put this bill in the category of “Just When You Thought It Couldn’t Get Worse for Public Education”! 

Yesterday afternoon (Feb. 11th) the Senate Education Committee heard Senate Bill 470.  It would allow private schools receiving vouchers to ignore ISTEP and to take instead “another nationally recognized and norm referenced assessment” of their own choice.  The bill instructs the State Board to develop an A-F system just for the voucher schools taking alternate assessments.

Last year, a similar bill was quickly rejected by the committee because of the obvious reduction in accountability for voucher schools if they aren’t held to Indiana’s standards and assessed via ISTEP.  This year, the Senate Education Committee passed the bill 7-3 on a party line vote.

Now we see why the State Board in House Bill 1486 wants to eliminate the current ban on using peer comparisons (norm referenced assessments) in the A-F growth metrics.  It’s a complicated web they weave.

Governor Pence strongly endorsed the bill via his education policy director Chad Timmerman, who said that private schools should be able to “choose their own test.”

If anyone doubts that Governor Pence and the leaders of the General Assembly and State Board are favoring private schools over public schools in Indiana’s intense competitive marketplace of school choice, this bill should remove all doubts.  The voucher program was sold in 2011 by promising that private schools would take ISTEP and would be measured like all public schools using the A-F system.  Now just four years later the voucher schools want to change the rules but keep the money.

This bill would give private voucher schools a direct competitive advantage in the marketplace of school choice because they could attract parents who dislike excessive testing.  Public schools would also like to reduce the excessive testing that the General Assembly and State Board have mandated, but this bill only relieves testing mandates for private voucher schools.

This is one more reason why you should come to the Statehouse rally to speak out against the ongoing assault on public education.  Can you come to the Statehouse rally on February 16th at 2:00pm?

Senate Bill 470

Senator Schneider is sponsoring Senate Bill 470, which is similar to a bill he brought last year that did not make it to a floor vote.  This time around, he has added State Board authority to craft an alternate A-F system for voucher schools using alternate norm-referenced assessments.

Ten speakers testified for the bill including several parents who denounced the excessive testing currently required by the ISTEP testing program.  In the current turmoil over the amount of testing, public school parents might have given the same speeches.

Five speakers testified against the bill:  John Barnes, IDOE; Sally Sloan, AFT-Indiana; Ronni Embry, ISTA;  Scott Turney, Small & Rural Schools Association; and I.  Joel Hand returned from testifying for ICPE in the House Ways and Means budget hearing literally five seconds after Chairman Kruse closed the hearing on SB 470.  A copy of my testimony in opposition is attached.

In the vote, Republican Senators Yoder, Bassler, Leising, Schneider, Raatz, Pete Miller and Kruse voted yes.  Democrat Senators Rogers, Stoops and Mrvan voted no.  The bill now goes to the Senate Appropriations Committee next week.

Contact your Senator or all Senators to express your outrage at the double standard for accountability that SB 470 would establish between voucher schools and public schools.

Come to the Rally!

Senate Bill 470 is just the latest example of the lack of support for public education seen so far in this General Assembly.  If you have had enough, you are invited to come to the Statehouse rally in support of public education this coming Monday at 2pm in the North Atrium of the Statehouse.

The rally messages are: to STOP taking powers away from the State Superintendent of Public Instruction, to STOP the ongoing assault on public education and to LISTEN to voters and teachers.

The rally is organized by the Indiana Coalition for Public Education and rally partners are ISTA, AFT-Indiana, Northeast Indiana Friends of Public Education and the Indiana PTA.  For more details, go to: www.icpe2011.com.

Share the message, bring friends and come to the Statehouse to the 2pm rally on President’s Day!

Thanks for all your efforts in support of public education!

Best wishes,

Vic Smith      vic790@aol.com


Vic’s Statehouse Notes
#200 – February 10, 2015 

Dear Friends, 

Can you come to the Statehouse rally on February 16th at 2:00pm?

Any voter who is outraged that the General Assembly is reducing the powers of the State Superintendent during the term that they elected her to hold those powers should come to the Statehouse rally if at all possible.  It will be held on Monday, February 16th for a 2:00pm (EST) in the North Atrium of the Statehouse. 

The rally themes are to STOP taking powers away from the State Superintendent of Public Instruction and to STOP the ongoing assault on public education.

House Bill 1609 removing the State Superintendent as chair of the State Board of Education passed the House yesterday at 5:12pm by a vote of 58-40 after a long floor debate.  The bill now moves to the Senate. 

The leadership of the House and the Senate don’t get it.  The turmoil on the State Board is not based on personalities but rather reflects monumental policy battles over the future of public education in Indiana.  This bill takes power away from the elected State Superintendent in those policy battles and gives more power to State Board members.

Any change in powers before the next election can only be interpreted as a power grab to win the policy battles over education policy. 

If you think the State Superintendent should not lose the power to chair the State Board that Dr. Bennett and every other State Superintendent have had since 1913, please come to the rally.

Bring friends! 

The Vote on HB 1609

Twelve Republicans joined 28 Democrats in opposing the bill.  They should be thanked for a difficult vote against Speaker Bosma and the wishes of Governor Pence.  They are Representatives Arnold, Beumer, Braun, Davisson, Dermody, Harman, Judy, Koch, Mahan, Nisly, Saunders and Truitt. 

All Democrats, except for Representative Goodin who was excused, voted against the bill and should also be sent a note of thanks.  They are Representatives Austin, Bartlett, Bauer, C. Brown, Delaney, Dvorak, Errington, Forestal, GiaQuinta, Hale, Harris, Kersey, Klinker, Lawson, Macer, Moed, Moseley, Niezgodski, Pelath, Pierce, Porter, Pryor, Riecken, Shackleford, V. Smith, Stemler, Summers and Wright.

The remaining Republicans, except for Representative Morris who was excused, voted for the bill.

The Debate on HB 1609  

 

The floor debate on the bill was characterized by passion and eloquence.  Speaker Bosma, Representative Rhoads and Representative McMillan, the sponsor, spoke for the bill.  Representatives Pelath, Wright, Delaney, Vernon Smith, Klinker, Porter, Pierce, Charlie Brown, Bauer and Austin spoke against the bill.

Representative Pelath led off the opposition by calling this a “troubling and embarrassing” bill and the result of what happens “when somebody runs afoul of the Politbureau.”  The entire floor debate can be seen on the Indiana General Assembly website by clicking on “Video Archives” of the 2015 session, and then on “House Chamber” for Monday, Feb. 9th, Part 1. 

What Will the People Say?

There is a long way to go on this issue to determine whether the General Assembly will overturn the will of the voters in the 2012 election about who will chair the State Board.  Senate Bill 1 is also moving in the Senate which, in addition to cutting the State Superintendent’s powers, would change the composition of the State Board. 

I urge you to get involved.  Contact your legislators.  If you can, come to the rally in the Statehouse on Feb. 16th at 2pm.  Your actions will make a huge difference in letting our legislators know where the people stand.

Thanks for your efforts in support of public education! 

Best wishes,

Vic Smith      vic790@aol.com


Vic’s Statehouse Notes
#199 – February 3, 2015

Dear Friends, 

Senate Bill 1 removing the State Superintendent as chair of the State Board of Education passed the Senate Rules Committee by a party line vote of 7-4 about 6:45pm last evening (Feb. 2) after a long hearing which began about 4:15.

I gave the following testimony against removing the State Superintendent as chair: 

“Make no mistake.  These bills about who shall chair the State Board are skirmishes in a greater war about whether a strong public education system built over the past 100 years will survive in Indiana. These bills impact policy.  They advance the policies of the current State Board backed by the Governor and they deny the policies of the current State Superintendent.  While some have dismissed the debates as bickering and the result of personalities, this has been at heart a high-stakes series of contentious policy debates for the past two years about the future of public education in Indiana.  Here are five examples:

Debate #1: A strong public education system is built on well trained teachers.  Should the training standards for teachers be lowered to give licenses for the first time to individuals with no teacher training and let them learn on the job?  The State Board said yes.  The State Superintendent of Public Instruction said no.  The State Board prevailed. 

Debate #2: A strong public education system is built on respected, well trained principals.  Should the teacher evaluations completed by school principals for the past two years be derided and ignored because some members of the State Board believe there can’t possibly be as many effective and highly effective teachers as the principals have said?  Such attitudes explain why teachers are retiring early and advising young people to pick another profession.  Should school principals be downgraded in the teacher evaluation process because their evaluations are wrong? Several members of the State Board have said yes, and they are making plans to change the teacher evaluation system to reduce the role of principals.  The State Superintendent of Public Instruction has said no. 

Debate #3: A strong public education system is built on well trained superintendents.  Should licensing standards for superintendents be lowered to give temporary superintendents with no superintendent license a path to a permanent license with no further training?  The State Board, which for the first time in our history has no superintendents or former superintendents appointed to it, said yes.  The State Superintendent of Public Instruction said no.  The State Board prevailed. 

Debate #4: A strong public education system is built on a respected and valid system of grading schools.  Should the directions of the 2013 General Assembly (in HEA 1427) to void the current A-F system by November 15, 2013 be delayed and ignored?  Should use of the flawed current A-F system which measures student growth based on peer comparisons be continued contrary to the law that you passed?  The State Board said yes.  The State Superintendent of Public Instruction said no. The State Board prevailed.  We are still using and will even use again next fall the system that you voted in 2013 to void.

Debate #5: A strong public education system is built on transparency and public input.  Should the State Board use a private email meeting of dubious legality to take action to request that legislative leaders direct LSA to calculate school letter grades without the knowledge of the State Superintendent?  The State Board said yes.  The State Superintendent of Public Instruction said no.  The State Board’s action prompted a legal battle over the Open Door procedures. 

In all of these policy debates, and these five examples are but a sampling, the State Superintendent was representing the position of the voters who elected her to maintain our strong system of public education in Indiana.   Under current law, the voters choose the chair of the State Board.  These bills would remove that power from the voters and give it to appointees of the Governor.  This clearly downgrades the power of the voters and tips the balance in these policy debates in favor of the State Board.  Directly reducing the power of the voters before the next election diminishes our democracy.

Are these bills really the way democracy is supposed to work?  The voters had a chance to ratify the State Board policies listed above in 2012 because they were the policies of State Superintendent Bennett, but they didn’t ratify them.  They chose instead to elect State Superintendent Ritz, decisively.  She received 1.3 million voters, more than Governor Pence received.  The voters had spoken about education. 

When it comes to education, the race for State Superintendent is the only office where the voters can focus solely on education policy.  As the Governor and members of the General Assembly run for office, there are hundreds of issues that voters might focus on as they make their decision, but the State Superintendent electoral race is all about education, and the voters were extremely clear that they did not agree with State Superintendent Bennett.

While it was obvious that after the 2012 election that State Superintendent Ritz would be a lone voice in the Statehouse, at least it was clear to voters who elected her that she would have the power of the chair to slow down and try to correct several questionable policy proposals which Dr. Bennett had proposed.  There were big issues on the table: how to grade our schools, how to evaluate our teachers and whether to lower our licensing standards for teachers and administrators as proposed.  The voters had their say, at least for the next four years. 

But according these bills, the voters were wrong.  The voters do not, according to these bills, have the power to pick leaders who will serve until the next election when the voters can speak again.  The Governor and his activist board members did not like the priorities and policies of the new State Superintendent.  They have systematically worked for two years to diminish her power in order to win the philosophical battles of education policy.  In my observation, this effort began in July, 2013 in the first meeting of the newly appointed board when Superintendent Ritz was presenting her vision for improving reading.  She is after all a literacy specialist and she did after all win the election, but her presentation was interrupted and cut off by one board member and tabled before she could even finish the presentation.  There has been a long-term effort to reduce her influence and these bills are part of that effort.

It is not fair to the voters in our democracy to change the powers of an office during the term of the office.  This clearly undercuts the powers of “We the People”.  This bill tries to raise the powers of appointed State Board members above the powers of the voters.  This is just plain wrong, and if enacted it would absolutely and clearly diminish our democracy. 

At the very least, if the General Assembly decides to favor the Governor’s position over the State Superintendent’s position in the monumental education policy debate that Indiana is now engaged in, the powers of the State Superintendent should be changed to be effective after the next election, and not during the term awarded to the State Superintendent by the voters.

Diminishing the powers of the Superintendent of Public Instruction is an obvious symbol of diminishing Indiana’s priority on public education. I urge you to maintain the powers of the office and to maintain a high priority on public education in Indiana. 

We pride ourselves on being a democracy with powers of government derived from the voters.  I urge you to withdraw these bills in order to maintain that principle and to respect the voters.”

Details of the Hearing 

Senator Holdman was called on to discuss three bills he is sponsoring changing State Board governance, Senate Bill 1, Senate Bill 452 and Senate Bill 453.  His amendment to Senate Bill 1, accepted by consensus, in addition to changing the chair, would change the composition of the State Board to nine members, four appointed by the Governor, two by the House Speaker and two by the Senate President Pro Tem.

Chairman Long announced that supporters and opponents would each be given one hour to speak. 

Speaking for the bill, in order, were Robert Summers from the Office of the Governor in Ohio; Caitlin Gamble from Hoosiers for Quality Education; Carol Owslander from the Indiana Chamber of Commerce; and Senator Kenley.

Speaking against the bill, in order, were John Barnes representing the State Superintendent and the IDOE; Sally Sloan from AFT-Indiana; Lynn Slivka speaking as a retired teacher and citizen; myself; Teresa Meredith from the Indiana State Teachers Association; Joel Hand from the Indiana Coalition for Public Education; and Kristina Frey speaking as a citizen and parent in Washington Township. 

In closing, Senator Holdman said it “makes no difference who is chair” and asserted the only a “tiny majority” of voters knew that the State Superintendent would chair the State Board.  Senator Tallian, before the vote, said it was a “travesty” to suggest voters didn’t know the State Superintendent would chair the State Board and called for elections and greater accountability to the voters if the governance of the State Board is to be changed.  Senator Lanane said this bill would not reach the core of the problem because the friction is about policies and this bill shows “we don’t care about voters.”

Voting for the bill were Republican Senators Long, Hershman, Holdman, Kruse, Eckerty, Steele and Merritt. 

Voting against the bill were Democrat Senators Lanane, Breaux, Arnold and Tallian.

Contact Your Legislators 

Senate Bill 1 now goes to the floor of the Senate.  Contact your Senator or other Senators with your thoughts this crucial bill.

Senate Bill 1 is an historic change.  The State Superintendent has chaired the State Board since 1913 and State Board governance has not been changed since 1984. 

Republican Senator Head in a Third House meeting in Logansport last weekend asserted that changing the powers of the State Superintendent should be done only when a Republican holds the office, to avoid the charges of party partisanship.  It is clear that he will need lots of grassroots support for that position if it is going to gain favor against the Governor’s position. 

Remember you can go to the website of the Indiana General Assembly and click on any Senator.  Then click on “Send an email.” 

Update on House Bill 1009

Representative Behning presented House Bill 1009 this morning in the House Education Committee.  After a long hearing, he said he would hold the bill to discuss amendments with Representative Austin and bring it back for amendments and voting on Thursday, Feb. 5, at 8:30am. 

Thanks for your efforts in support of public education!

Best wishes, 

Vic Smith      vic790@aol.com