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What's happening at the Statehouse

Vic's Statehouse Notes #221 – May 5, 2015

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

 

Vic’s Statehouse Notes #198 – January 31, 2015  

Dear Friends,

House Bill 1486 restoring peer comparisons to measure student growth in the A-F system and transferring operational authority in several areas from the IDOE to the State Board passed the House Education Committee Thursday morning (Jan. 29th) by a vote of 9-4, with 9 Republicans voting yes and 4 Democrats voting no.

Chairman Behning postponed until Thursday afternoon the hearing on House Bill 1609 removing the State Superintendent as chair of the State Board.  After the hearing, House Bill 1609 passed the committee in a party line vote of 8 to 3.

On Monday Feb. 2nd, the Senate Rules Committee will hold hearings on all three Senate Bills which would remove the State Superintendent as chair of the State Board, Senate Bills 1, 452 and 453 in Room 431 after adjournment of the 1:30 floor session of the Senate.

On Tuesday Feb. 3rd at 8:30am, the House Education Committee will hold hearings on three bills, including House Bill 1009, the “Freedom to Teach” bill, a complex set of changes endorsed by the Governor.

On Wednesday Feb. 4th at 1:30pm, the Senate Education Committee will hold hearings on three new bills, including Senate Bill 566, a long bill changing ISTEP, end-of-course assessments, innovation school availability, teacher licensing and collective bargaining.

On Thursday Feb. 5th at 8:30am, the House Education Committee will hold hearings on two bills, including House Bill 1638, a massive rewrite of PL221 shrinking the time for State Board intervention in failing schools from 6 years to 4 years and defining failing schools that require State Board intervention to include D schools.  Public schools advocates will want to be active on this bill.

House Bill 1486

Thursday’s continuation of the hearing on HB 1486 carried over two speakers who signed up for Tuesday’s hearing, starting with my testimony.  First, I urged the committee to reject changes that would allow peer comparisons in calculating student growth in the A-F system.  Second, I urged the committee to maintain the current line between giving the State Board control of policy and giving IDOE control of implementing that policy, rather than giving the State Board new powers of operational control.  My complete testimony is attached.

The second speaker called by Chairman Behning was James Bentley, a State Board staff attorney who said he was asked to testify by Brad Oliver.  He spoke in detail about several programs where the State Board wanted clarification about additional authority, including teacher evaluation, ISTEP contracts, turnaround academies and calculating A-F grades.  He also detailed testing expert Damian Betebenner’s advice that Indiana law should be changed yet again to allow peer comparisons in student growth formulas.

Dr. Betebenner, the consultant hired by the State Board as requested by Dan Elsener to advise the 16-member A-F panel, is no stranger to Indiana.  His center was the source of Student Growth Percentile data prominently used by the IDOE for many years and incorporated into Dr. Bennett’s A-F growth metrics.  His center provided the peer comparison growth data under a contract.  Presumably, no further contracts would be possible if Indiana continues its ban on peer comparison growth measures. 

Mr. Bentley touted Dr. Betebenner as one of two national experts saying Indiana should return to peer comparison growth data, but he did not disclose the past contracts with Dr. Betebenner or the possibility of future contracts for growth data.  If the State Board staff is going to hold up Dr. Betebenner as the national expert telling the Indiana General Assembly we should remove the ban on peer comparisons, they should also reveal past contract information in order for the committee to review whether financial interests are linked to this advice.

I am hoping that the General Assembly’s new found interest in ethics and the media’s recent flurry of investigations into conflicts of interest will be applied in this case to see if any conflict of interest exists in this situation.


Click here to read my testimony.

House Bill 1609 

When Chairman Behning moved the hearing on House Bill 1609 to the afternoon, I could not participate in the hearing.  My written testimony was distributed to the committee, and it is attached if you care to read more.  My main point of opposition is that voters now pick the chair of the State Board, and this bill removes that power of the voters and gives it to ten appointees of the Governor.  That shift reduces the power of voters in Indiana and thereby diminishes our democracy.

It should be noted that the bill expires on January 1, 2016, which means it only applies to the last two years of the State Superintendent’s term.  The voters who elected Glenda Ritz in order to chair the State Board would have the intent of their vote changed mid-term by this bill. 

You probably have seen in media coverage that State Superintendent Ritz testified personally against the bill, and then the committee voted to approve the bill in a party line vote.

Click here to read my testimony.

Bills to be Heard Next Week 

I have been following the work of Chairman Behning’s committee since he first became chair of the House Education Committee in 2005.  For the first time in ten years, Representative Behning has announced the bills for the House Education Committee a week in advance.  He has already posted the meeting agendas for Feb. 3 and Feb. 5.

What accounts for this remarkable change?  Democrats on the committee, especially Representative Smith and Representative Austin, have been vocally critical of the procedures of the committee and the lack of notice about agendas.  They should be thanked for their efforts, and Representative Behning should be thanked for responding with earlier agendas, giving the public a longer chance to review bills and talk with legislators about bills coming up next week. 

Many such discussions with legislators are in order.  The most controversial bills in my list are Senate Bills 1, 452 and 453 (Monday), House Bill 1009 (Tuesday), Senate Bill 566 (Wednesday) and House Bill 1638 (Thursday).

Senate Bills 1, 452 and 453 would all remove the State Superintendent as chair of the State Board.  It would be great to see a big turnout of speakers against these bills. 

House Bill 1009 would create “transformation zone” schools which would not be covered by collective bargaining and would allow higher pay for highly effective teachers.

Senate Bill 566 would replace ISTEP testing with the BEST testing program. 

House Bill 1638 would make D schools eligible for state takeover as well as F schools and would reduce the time to state intervention from 6 years to 4 years.  These concepts were soundly defeated on the floor of the House in 2013 (in House Bill 1337) but they are back to be considered in HB 1638 by the request of the very active State Board of Education.

Contact Your Legislators 

Contact members of the House Education Committee and the Senate Rules and Education Committees with your thoughts these important bills.

One good way to contact legislators is to go to the website of the Indiana General Assembly and click on the committee hearing the bill.  On the left you will see the committee members.  Then click on each one and click on “Send an email.” 

Thanks for your efforts in support of public education!

Best wishes, 

Vic Smith      vic790@aol.com


Vic’s Statehouse Notes
#197 – January 27, 2015

Dear Friends, 

The hearing on House Bill 1486 this morning in the House Education Committee was suspended at 11:00am.  The hearing will be completed at the Thursday (Jan. 29th) meeting beginning at 8:30am in Room 156C of the Statehouse.  The committee will then vote on the bill which restores peer comparisons to the measures of student growth in A-F metrics and transfers operational authority in several areas from the Indiana Department of Education to the State Board, as I outlined in Vic’s Statehouse Notes #196 sent out yesterday. 

If you object to the return of norm-referenced growth measures in the A-F law or the expansion of powers of the State Board, you should contact members of the House Education Committee before Thursday morning.

House Bill 1609 is also scheduled for a hearing and vote at Thursday’s meeting.  HB 1609 would remove the State Superintendent as chair of the State Board and allow board members to elect a chair annually, effective as soon as the law is passed.  I strongly oppose HB 1609.  If you feel as I do, contact members of the House Education Committee or come to testify. 

House Bill 1486 

After passing two bills 11-0, one on bargaining issues and one to give teachers a $200 tax credit for supplies, Representative Thompson presented his controversial bill to give the State Board more authority over several functions now controlled by the State Superintendent and the Indiana Department of Education. 

I will reprint the list of points that I sent out last night in Notes 196:

HB 1486 would: 

  • Rewrite Indiana’s school accountability law Public Law 221 for only the third time since 1999, the legal basis for the A-F school grading system, deleting an important line added in 2013 that banned the “measurement of student performance or growth compared with peers.”  This would open the door to reinstating the current flawed A-F system that is embedded with peer based growth comparisons, also known as norm-referenced measures.
  • Delete the word “individual” from the definition of growth in the A-F system, allowing a return to the days of judging schools by results of large groups of different students and ignoring the before and after scores of the same individual student. 
  • Take away the power of the IDOE to develop ISTEP tests and give it to the State Board.
  • Put the setting of ISTEP passing scores now overseen by IDOE in the hands of “independent experts” selected by the State Board. 
  • Change the State Board from a policy body to a nuts and bolts operations body by giving the power to “oversee the operation of turnaround academies” to the State Board.
  • Give the State Board new authority to audit or evaluate any educational program based on data the IDOE would be required to provide. 
  • Put the State Board rather than the IDOE in charge of the teacher evaluation program, allowing the State Board to set “a minimum and maximum threshold for the use of objective measures of student achievement and growth in all staff performance evaluation plans,” taking away local control in the current law and pointing the way to Dr. Bennett’s often stated goal that at least 51% of each evaluation should be based on student test results.
  • Change the control by the state over the local evaluation plan from “may” to “shall” language, leading to the loss of local control as districts set plans to evaluate their teachers.
  • Remove the power of IDOE to determine which other subjects besides “the big four” subjects will have academic standards and give that power to the State Board.
  • Mandate a “statewide assessment administered in grade 3 that serves as a determinant evaluation of reading skills in grade 3” which “shall be referred to as IREAD-3”.  The 2010 law pushed through by Dr. Bennett made no mention of a test or of IREAD-3 which was mandated later via rules of the State Board.

State Board member Brad Oliver testified in favor of the bill.  Six speakers testified against one or more elements of the bill:  John O’Neill, ISTA; Joel Hand, ICPE; Scott Turney, Small and Rural Schools Association; Sally Sloan, AFT-Indiana; Brian Smith, ISBA; and John Barnes, IDOE.  At that point, Chairman Behning said the other two speakers, including me, will be called on Thursday, followed by the vote.

John Barnes, representing Superintendent Ritz and the IDOE, said, “We see this as an irresponsible power grab.”  He pointed to the duplication of services by the duplicate staff which could cost in the neighborhood of $5 million.  He quoted Senator Kruse regarding the intent of the language on the teacher evaluation program:  “Please quote me.  I wrote this language.  ‘Significant’ was the intent.”  The proposed bill would change the word “significant” and have the State Board set a minimum and maximum percentage of student test data to be figured into teacher evaluations, which was suggested by Brad Oliver in his testimony to likely be 33% to 50%.

House Bill 1609 

Several bills have been filed to reduce the power of State Superintendent Ritz.  This is the first to be scheduled for a hearing.  It would allow State Board members to elect a chair on an annual basis, and it would take effect immediately upon passage.  It is sponsored by Representatives McMillan and Wesco.

I strongly oppose this bill.  Changing the powers of the State Superintendent during the term in which she was elected is offensive to the voters who elected her to fulfill the powers of the office at the time they voted.  This bill completely ignores and undercuts the power of Hoosier voters and in that way undercuts our democracy. 

Contact House Education Committee Members before 8:30am Thursday

Contact members of the House Education Committee about your concerns about House Bill 1486 and House Bill 1609.  Representative Behning is the chair of the committee.  Republican members of the committee are Representatives Rhoads, Burton, Clere, Cook, DeVon, Fine, Lucas, and Thompson.  Democrats on the committee are Representatives Vernon Smith, Austin, Errington and Moed. 

Every email and phone call helps!

Thanks for your efforts in support of public education! 

Best wishes,

Vic Smith      vic790@aol.com

 

Vic’s Statehouse Notes #196 – January 26, 2015 

Dear Friends, 

House Bill 1486 was posted at 1:30pm today for a hearing at 8:30am tomorrow, January 27th.  Reading HB 1486 late this afternoon motivated me to alert you to a series of controversial changes that I strongly oppose. 

HB 1486 would: 

  • Rewrite Indiana’s school accountability law Public Law 221 for only the third time since 1999, the legal basis for the A-F school grading system, deleting an important line added in 2013 that banned the “measurement of student performance or growth compared with peers.”  This would open the door to reinstating the current flawed A-F system that is embedded with peer based growth comparisons, also known as norm-referenced measures.
  • Delete the word “individual” from the definition of growth in the A-F system, allowing a return to the days of judging schools by results of large groups of different students and ignoring the before and after scores of the same individual student.
  • Take away the power of the IDOE to develop ISTEP tests and give it to the State Board.
  • Put the setting of ISTEP passing scores now overseen by IDOE in the hands of “independent experts” selected by the State Board.
  • Change the State Board from a policy body to a nuts and bolts operations body by giving the power to “oversee the operation of turnaround academies” to the State Board.
  • Give the State Board new authority to audit or evaluate any educational program based on data the IDOE would be required to provide.
  • Put the State Board rather than the IDOE in charge of the teacher evaluation program, allowing the State Board to set “a minimum and maximum threshold for the use of objective measures of student achievement and growth in all staff performance evaluation plans,” taking away local control in the current law and pointing the way to Dr. Bennett’s often stated goal that at least 51% of each evaluation should be based on student test results.
  • Change the control by the state over the local evaluation plan from “may” to “shall” language, leading to the loss of local control as districts set plans to evaluate their teachers.
  • Remove the power of IDOE to determine which other subjects besides “the big four” subjects will have academic standards and give that power to the State Board.
  • Mandate a “statewide assessment administered in grade 3 that serves as a determinant evaluation of reading skills in grade 3” which “shall be referred to as IREAD-3”.  The 2010 law pushed through by Dr. Bennett made no mention of a test or of IREAD-3 which was mandated later via rules of the State Board.

Enough Said!  Contact Members of the House Education Committee

 This is a lot to digest in the 19 hours between posting the hearing and the 8:30am meeting.

I would love to take time to amplify my concerns, especially the first two bullets above that open the door to a return of norm-referenced growth comparisons that were debunked to the point that the 2013 legislature voided the A-F system and required a new system. 

At least they thought they did.

The Governor and many current State Board members have embraced the old flawed system that Dr. Bennett created, which has been used to grade schools three times now with a plan to use it once again next fall.  Now this proposed bill would allow them to keep it permanently.

I must stop here and urge you to contact members of the House Education Committee about your concerns about House Bill 1486.  The chair of the committee is Representative Behning, who sponsored the 2013 bill on A-F (HB 1427) which would be reversed in part by this bill.  Republican members of the committee are Representatives Rhoads, Burton, Clere, Cook, DeVon, Fine, Lucas, and Thompson.  Representative Thompson is the sponsor of HB 1486.  Democrats on the committee are Representatives Vernon Smith, Austin, Errington and Moed.

Make as many contacts as you can about one or several of the points above.  Every email and phone call helps!

Thanks for your efforts in support of public education!

Best wishes,

Vic Smith      vic790@aol.com


c's Statehouse Notes #195


Dear Friends,


Governor Pence’s budget cost estimates have been updated by the nonpartisan Legislative Services Agency and by his own policy director in testimony Thursday before the Senate Appropriations Committee.

The new official figures for funding charter schools and vouchers leave extremely low increases for traditional public school funding:  1.3% in the first year and 0.3% in the second year.  These are calculated based strictly on the cost estimates for charter schools and vouchers announced by state officials.

There are other costs not mentioned by officials which would make these increases even lower.

Let your legislators know that they must do better than the Governor, who has set a very low standard to beat.  The “2%/1%” 2013 budget was a historically low budget for public school funding, producing $330 million in new public school funding for the biennium.  As low as that was, the Governor’s new budget would give only $200 million to public schools, with about $100 million going to upgrades for charter school funding and voucher funding.

This extremely low budget during healthy economic times suggests that Governor Pence cares little about giving public school students the resources they need in their current schools.  His budget seems to favor private and charter schools over public schools.

The Senate Appropriations Committee Meeting on January 22nd

Senator Kenley focused the first meeting of the Senate Appropriations Committee on the Governor’s proposal to give charter schools a new grant of $1500 per student.  He invited and received testimony from Chad Timmerman, Governor Pence’s education policy director, from State Superintendent Glenda Ritz, and from Russ Simnick, policy director of the National Alliance of Charter Schools.

Chad Timmerman made the case that charter schools need additional funding because they don’t get property tax funding for facilities.  Glenda Ritz reviewed the extensive work she has done to help charter schools improve and said that the fairest way to go would be to add to the tuition support of all schools.  Russ Simnick said that Indiana is ranked as #2 in the nation in the climate for charter schools and the reason it is not #1 is the need for better funding.

Following these presentations, testimony was invited from the public.  Joel Hand gave the testimony for the Indiana Coalition for Public Education, raising two key concerns.  First he cited ICPE opposition to for-profit K-12 schools and asked how the General Assembly can assure taxpayers that a $1500 increase per charter school student will go to student learning and not to give investors a bigger profit.  Second, referring to the LSA list showing per pupil support from all revenue sources, he cited 16 charter schools that even without property tax are averaging a higher per pupil average than the grand state average of $11,783 from all revenue sources.  He asked how the General Assembly can reassure taxpayers that extra money for charter schools will be used to equalize funding and not to give a bonanza of dollars to these 16 charter schools that are already above average in total revenue.  This would create inequity, not remove it.

The complete ICPE testimony on the charter school proposal is attached

The Governor’s Budget after Cost Estimates were Revised

Based on the testimony of Chad Timmerman, the Governor’s budget proposal for school funding can now be analyzed more precisely.

First year of the new budget, FY2016:

  1. The Governor wants tuition support to increase $134 million (2% increase).
  2. Chad Timmerman said the cost of the charter school proposal would be $41 million in FY2016.
  3. LSA has written a fiscal estimate (dated 1-16-15) saying removing the voucher cap would cost $3.8 million.
  4. $134 million minus $41 million (charters) minus $3.8 million (vouchers) = $89.2 million left for traditional public schools.
  5. $89.2 million is a 1.3% increase over the current budget, less than the cost of living.
  6. $89.2 million for 1,040,000 public school students = $86 total increase per public school student.  This compares unfavorably to the $1500 total increase per charter school student.


Second year of the new budget, FY2017:

  1. The Governor wants tuition support to increase $67 million (1% increase).
  2. Chad Timmerman said the cost of the charter school proposal would be $45.5 million in FY2017.
  3. LSA has written a fiscal estimate (dated 1-16-15) saying removing the voucher cap in FY2017 is a cost that can’t be calculated at this time.
  4. $67 million minus $45.5 million (charters) = $21.5 million left for traditional public schools.
  5. $21.5 million is a 0.3% increase over the current budget, far less than the cost of living.
  6. $21.5 million for 1,040,000 public school students = $20 total increase per public school student.  


A budget like this would clearly hurt our public school students.

These figures are summarized on an attached page for your use with legislators.

Additional Costs the Governor Does Not Want to Talk About

There is an additional fiscal cost which comes out the tuition support budget that the Governor doesn’t like to talk about.  The voucher program, due to the 2013 expansion, is no longer saving the state money as it did in the first two years but is now a fiscal cost which must be paid for from the same tuition support line item.

How big is the net cost of the voucher program?  A precise accounting in a financial report by the IDOE dated June 17, 2014 pegged the cost at $16 for 2013-14.  No new cost figures have been released for 2014-15, but since the number of vouchers increased by 50% in 2014-15 to 30,000, it is reasonable to say that the cost of the voucher program has also increased by 50%, from $16 million up to $24 million.  That $24 million has to come out of the Governor’s budget for tuition support and obviously would reduce the figures above for public schools even further.

Governor Pence’s budget is not fair to public schools.  Share your concerns with members of the House and Senate who will write their own budgets in the weeks ahead.

Senate Bill 169

In the Senate Education Committee on Wednesday (Jan. 21st), Chairman Kruse proposed an amendment to SB 169 to make the IREAD-3 proposal to be the subject of a summer study committee.  He said the discussion last week showed that there was more to the proposal than he first thought and that it would need extensive study in a summer study committee.  The amendment was accepted and the bill passed 9-0 to send it to a summer committee.

Contact Legislators about Public School Funding

Let members of the House and Senate know that the Governor’s “2%/1%” plan is really a “1.3%/0.3%” for public schools.  It is sad that the Governor’s budget shows such little support for community public schools.
In the Senate Appropriations Committee on Thursday, Senator Rogers pointed out that the Governor is now saying that in order to improve charter schools, more money is needed.  She said that in the past, the Governor has said that money is not needed for schools to improve, but she says with this charter proposal, the Governor has turned his position around to saying that money is needed to improve.  She said she hopes that the Governor will always remember this in the future.

Many districts have “Third House” or “Cracker Barrel” meetings on Saturday where you can talk with members of the House and Senate about the budget needs of public school students.  Let them know how public school students need better support than the Governor has proposed.  

Thanks for your efforts in support of public education!

Best wishes,
Vic Smith      vic790@aol.com



Vic’s Statehouse Notes
#194 – January 18, 2015

Dear Friends, 

Governor Pence’s rhetoric and his budget are showing a major disconnect.  He is calling this the “Education Session” but is recommending the lowest education funding increase in a generation for non-recession budgets.

In his television interview on “The Lawmakers” on Friday Jan. 16th, Governor Pence once again endorsed new funding of $200 million for “traditional public schools” in his proposed budget. 

While he spun it to sound great, $200 million is a significant decrease from the previous 2013 budget, a two year budget cycle which has left public schools in dire financial straits and in many cases unable to give teachers any raise.  Public school students have suffered from program cuts and rising class sizes while the Governor brags about a $2 billion surplus. 

His new budget proposal would give tuition support for public schools the smallest increase since before the 1999 school accountability reforms were passed, except for the two budgets during the Great Recession. 

In Indiana’s competitive marketplace of schools set up in 2011 by the voucher program, parents can choose among community public schools, charter schools and private schools.  Once again in his budget, Governor Pence has shown favoritism to private schools over public schools.

A Lower Increase for Public Schools Than Two Years Ago 

One of the major reasons why math is required in the education of all citizens is so that politicians can’t pull the wool over the eyes of citizens.  Let’s do the basic arithmetic.

In the last budget in the 2013 session, which was not a good budget for public school funding, it took $132 million to lift the tuition support budget in the first year by 2%.  Then in the second year of the budget, another $132 million was required just to maintain that effort.  To lift the second year of the budget by another 1% required $66 million more.  To calculate the total investment of new dollars in the 2013 budget for public schools, those three numbers must be added together:  $132 million + $132 million + $66 million = $330 million. 

Compare that with Governor Pence’s plan to give “traditional public schools” $200 million dollars in the new budget.  Even if he is somehow rounding off the numbers, he is proposing at least $100 million dollars less for public schools than they are getting now in the current poorly funded school budget.

Do Hoosier voters and taxpayers really want to keep degrading public school funding following the lead of Governor Pence? 

Funding the Governor’s Preferred Alternatives

The Governor’s budget as presented to the General Assembly on January 8th called for a 2% increase the first year and a 1% in the second year.  If you do the math for each year, that would require a total increase of $336 million.  ($134 million + $134 million + $68 million) 

Normally, politicians spin their budgets to show their support in the biggest way possible.  In this case, that would mean announcing a raise in funding by $336 million, but neither Governor Pence nor his budget director has used that figure in public discussions.  Instead, they have consistently said $200 million more will go to “traditional public schools.”  One must ask:  Why aren’t they claiming a $300 million dollar increase?

Apparently, without saying it directly, the Governor is taking out some $100 million from the “2%/1%” plan for his preferred alternatives, voucher and charter schools, even though voucher and charter school students represent only about 6% of the K-12 enrollment in Indiana. 

His staff has already said that removing the cap on voucher payments will cost $4 million per year, or $8 million for the biennium.  Then his staff has said that extra funding for charter schools would cost $41 million over two years.  Adding $41 million to the $8 million for vouchers makes a total of $49 million which the Governor’s office admits to, reducing the $336 million required for the “2%/1%” plan to $287 million for “traditional public schools.”

The Governor’s estimates, however, for voucher expansion and charter school grants are extremely questionable.  There is no reason voucher schools can’t raise their tuitions now that the Governor has said the state should pay whatever the private school asks for with no cap.  The $4 million per year cost estimate would average only a $133 rise for each of the current 30,000 voucher students, an unlikely low estimate.  Regarding charter school funding, the Governor’s estimate seems wildly inaccurate, since paying an extra $1500 per year for each of the 35,678 school students would cost $53.5 million per year or $107 million for the biennium.  This would account for the $100 million that is not going to “traditional public schools.” 

The Recent History of Funding Public Education

Given all this, the Governor is not really proposing a “2%/1%” increase for public schools, as they received in the 2013 budget.  In the year he calls the “education session”, he is proposing the lowest funding for “traditional public schools” in years if the low budgets of the Great Recession are taken out of the mix. 

Here 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 the “2%/1%” plan in the 2013 budget was the lowest since 1999 except for the two budgets of the Great Recession.  Now Governor Pence proposes to reduce the “2%/1%” of the 2013 budget by about $100 million dollars in order to fund voucher and charter schools, leaving only about $200 million for “traditional public schools.” 

 

Contact Legislators about Public School Funding 

Let members of the House and Senate know that the Governor’s “2%/1% minus $100 million” plan is not good enough.

In his State of the State Address on January 13th, Governor Pence said:  “I stand before you as your governor to proudly report that the state of our State has never been stronger.”  If Indiana is that strong and has a strong surplus, we can surely do better for our students than to fund our public schools at the lowest level in our recent history. 

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.  That number represents our past legacy of support for our public school students.  Contact your legislators throughout this session to urge them to make funding for our public school students a priority once again.

Thanks for your efforts in support of public education! 

Best wishes,

Vic Smith      vic790@aol.com

 



Vic’s Statehouse Notes #192 – January 13, 2015

Dear Friends, 

This is a follow-up to Statehouse Notes #190 regarding my commentary on Senate Bill 169, the IREAD-2 bill.

Senator Houchin called me yesterday (Monday) to let me know that she has a new amendment to the bill which clarifies that second graders who don’t pass the statewide IREAD-2 test would not be required to be retained in the second grade.  Instead they would go on to third grade where they would be retained as third graders if they failed to pass IREAD-3 at the end of Grade 3.

I will let those parents and teachers of second graders decide for themselves if this makes Senate Bill 169 more palatable to them.  I appreciated Senator Houchin’s call and her efforts to send me the amendment in advance of the hearing. 

Details of the Amendment

Senator Houchin’s amendment clarifies two points that were not in the original bill: 

I think this question should be answered with major input from second grade teachers and parents.  Senator Houchin shared with me that the idea for this change came from elementary teachers in her district.

1)       The timing of the change to a statewide IREAD-2 test would be in 2016-17.  The amendment says:

       “This subdivision applies after June 30, 2016.”

2)      Second graders would not be automatically retained if they fail the statewide IREAD-2 test.  The amendment says:

“An emphasis on a method for making determinant evaluations by grade 2 that might require retention or remedial action for the student in grade 2 or grade 3.  A student who requires remediation after the student is evaluated in grade 2 must receive remedial action and be reevaluated in grade 3.  If the student remains below standard after receiving remedial action and being reevaluated in grade 3, the student, after other methods of remediation have been evaluated or used, or both, must be retained as a last resort.  If a student who is in kindergarten or grade 1 is not on track to meet grade level reading expectations as required by the plan, the student’s teacher may suggest remedial action, including retention of the student.  Appropriate consultation with parents or guardians must be part of the plan.”

That is Senator Houchin’s amendment which all should be aware of if you are concerned about this bill.

Come to the Hearing or Contact Your Legislators as You Can

Should the first statewide assessment of reading be moved back to second grade?

I continue to have three broad concerns:
 

1)      This change would be the first statewide testing of second graders since ISTEP testing in grade 2 was dropped nearly 25 years ago.  Since then, a consensus has held that statewide testing should begin at grade 3 based on greater stability and reliability of testing at that level.  I believe that consensus should be sustained.

2)      This change would cost $1.2 million for the transition year when the IREAD assessment would need to be given at both second and third grades.  After that, it would be given at the second grade, but there would be some additional cost to the state for retesting third graders who did not pass as second graders.  If lawmakers feel they have an extra $1.2 available, I hope they will direct it to restarting the professional development fund that was eliminated in the Dr. Bennett years.

3)      Even though some teachers may perceive this as a fairly small change, others will see it as huge and unwarranted.  It would put second graders and second grade teachers into the pressured milieu of the testing culture that currently starts at third grade.  Inevitably, second grade IREAD scores if available would become data points to compare schools in the grand competitive marketplace of parental choice that we now have in Indiana.  Inevitably, second grade IREAD scores if available would become factors in the evaluation and compensation decisions for second grade teachers.  As I see it, this is not a change we need to make in a complex year devoted to implementing new standards and new assessments.

The meeting will begin in the Senate Chamber tomorrow, January 14th at approximately 2:30pm after adjournment from the annual State of the Judiciary Address.  The hearing on Senate Bill 169 will be the fifth bill out of six on the agenda.  I hope you will have your say either at the hearing or in communications with Senators on the Education Committee or with your own Senator.

Thanks for your involvement and participation in support of public education!

Best wishes, 

Vic Smith      vic790@aol.com


Vic’s Statehouse Notes #191 – January 13, 2015

Dear Friends, 

As Governor Pence prepares for his State of the State address this evening, he no doubt will again call this the education session.  His budget unveiled last Thursday (Jan. 8th), however, was stingy on education funding.

His budget continued his policies of favoring private schools over public schools and offered no relief to public schools from the paltry funding of the past two year biennium. 

He recommended a 2% increase in the first year followed by a 1% increase in the second year of the biennium.  That is exactly the pattern of the 2013 budget that has left many public school districts in financial distress when funding didn’t even cover the cost of living, which economists told the legislators was 1.6% per year.  The “2%/1%” pattern is the lowest budget for tuition support since the public school accountability law was passed in 1999, except for the two budgets during the Great Recession.

Now that the Great Recession is behind us, you would think we would restore public education to a high priority, but the Governor says no. 

The Governor’s budgetary bad news then gets worse.  He says he will give $41 million of the “2%/1%” plan to charter schools to make up for the lack of property tax support under the charter school law.  Then he says he will give $4 million of the same fund to private schools to remove the cap on vouchers to pay the private school the full amount that they charge.

When all this is sorted out, community public schools will get far less than 2% and 1% in the next two year.  Thank goodness the Governor’s budget is just the first bid.  The House and Senate budgets need to be more positive for public schools.  Your legislators need to hear from you about the need for public school funding. 

Tuition Support Funding - The Details

Governor Pence has asked for $134 million more for tuition support in the first year.  That is a 2% increase over the last budget, which was $6.692 billion.

The Governor recommended another 1% in the second year of the biennium, which is well below the cost of living pegged by the federal government this year at 1.7%.  A 1% increase in the second year would require $68 million more in the tuition support fund.

Here’s where the math gets a bit complex.  The first year’s increase of $134 million has to be repeated in the second year to form the new base for adding the 1%.  This means the new money required in the second year totals $134 million plus the $68 million, or a grand total in the second year of $202 million.

Thus, the new money asked for in the Governor’s budget is $134 million for the first year and $202 million for the second year.  Adding the two years together results in a biennium total of $336 million.

Politicians like to add the two years together in this way and to publicize the total amount to make it sound like a huge amount, when in reality as you have seen, it doesn’t cover the cost of living.

If the Governor’s budget plan had stopped here, the verdict would be that it is a weak level of funding which mimics the record low funding in the 2013 budget, which was the lowest funding for non-recession years in recent memory.  With a continuing surplus of $2 billion, you would think he would fund our schools in a better way.

Unfortunately, his budget plan didn’t stop here.  It gets worse. 

Diversions and Fuzzy Math

The Governor’s budget then proposes to give charter schools a new grant of $1500 per student since they do not get property tax money.  The stated estimated cost of this was $41 million over two years. 

Secondly, the Governor says he would use $4 million each year to remove the cap on voucher payments for private school tuition.

Both of these come out of the proposed 2% and 1% for tuition support. 

Senator Tallian said the plan was full of “fuzzy math.”  I agree. 

Fuzzy #1:  If $1500 is multiplied by charter school enrollment of 35,678 (2013-14), the total cost is $53.5 million each year, not $41 million over two years.  The two year total is $107 million.  Do the math. 

Fuzzy #2:  If removing the cap on 30,000 vouchers is going to cost taxpayers $4 million each year, that means that private school tuition is on average only $133 higher than the current cap of $4800.  That seems highly unlikely and the $4 million seems to be a clear underestimation.

In 2013-14, the IDOE financial report on vouchers showed that the 2013 voucher expansion had changed the voucher program from a money saver for the state to a fiscal cost for the state of $16 million.  If the 2014-15 voucher numbers rose by 50% from 20,000 to 30.000, it is a fair estimate that the costs to the state also rose by 50% from $16 million to $24 million.  This $24 million also comes out the tuition support fund since there is no separate line item for voucher payments.  Republican leaders have resisted calls to give the voucher program its own transparent line item. 

What is Left for Community Public Schools?

These diversions leave public school districts in dire shape in the Governor’s budget. 

Let’s start with the Governor’s first year plan of adding 2% or $134 million.

Now take out the $1500 grant to 35,678 charter school students totaling $53.5 million.  That leaves $80.5 million. 

Now take out the $4 million for removing the voucher caps, using the Governor’s own estimate.  That leaves $76.5 million.

Now take out the estimated $24 million fiscal cost for the expanded voucher program paying for private school students who have always attended private schools which has to come out of the tuition support fund.  That leaves $52.5 million. 

Instead of 2%, the Governor is proposing 0.78% for public school districts, less than 1%. 

In the second year of the biennium, his proposal to for an additional $68 million is completely eaten up by the $53.5 million for charter schools, $4 million for vouchers, and the $24 ongoing fiscal cost for voucher students who have always attended private schools.  Funding for public school students would decrease. 

The Governor’s efforts to degrade public education in favor of private schools must be turned around by the General Assembly.

Please talk to your legislators about giving the one million plus public school students better financial support in the new budget than what the Governor has in mind. 

Thanks for attending to the math and for your efforts in support of public education!

Best wishes,

  Vic Smith      vic790@aol.com

Vic’s Statehouse Notes #190 – January 11, 2015

Dear Friends 

All second grade teachers, elementary principals and parents should be aware that Sen. Houchin’s bill to change the IREAD-3 test to IREAD-2, giving the high stakes reading test to all second graders, has been approved for a hearing at the next Senate Education Committee meeting on Wednesday, January 14, 2015 in the Senate Chamber.  The meeting will start approximately 2:30pm after adjournment from Chief Justice Rush’s State of the Judiciary speech at 1:30pm. 

Senator Houchin’s proposal is Senate Bill 169 

This is a disruptive proposal which elementary teachers and parents don’t need right now as they implement new standards and new assessments.  Nevertheless, the proposal has been made to radically change the second grade assessment, and the best authorities to comment on this major change are the parents and teachers of second graders.  I hope some will come to testify or will communicate with Senators about Senate Bill 169 before Wednesday.

All parents, teachers and principals who have strong feelings about whether high stakes tests in reading should be given to all second graders should feel invited to the Statehouse on January 14th to share their comments with the Senators.  Even a few teachers or parents who are directly affected by a change of this magnitude can add a dimension of reality in the hearing which can make a big difference in whether the Senate Committee approves the proposal.

Background to Senate Bill 169

 Senate Bill 169 would amend the law that Dr. Tony Bennett worked hard to pass in the 2010 short session.  The language passed in 2010 required a reading plan which “must include the following:  … An emphasis on a method for making determinant evaluations by grade 3 that might require remedial action for the student, including retention as a last resort, after other methods of remediation have been evaluated or used, or both, if reading skills are below the standard.”

Dr. Bennett used this law to pass State Board rules requiring the IREAD-3 assessment and retention if needed.  In 2013 when ISTEP testing was affected by these rules for the first time, about 2500 students were tested as retained 3rd graders rather than as 4th graders. 

Senate Bill 169 changes “grade 3” in the current law to “grade 2”, transferring the high stakes testing from Grade 3 reading to Grade 2.

The fiscal impact statement of the Legislative Services Agency says that “for the first testing cycle after the bill takes effect on July 1, 2015, the state would have to test students in Grades 2 and 3.  In subsequent years, only students in Grade 2 would be tested.  The current contract for the IREAD-3 assessment is approximately $1.2 million.  As a result, the state would incur a one-time additional cost of approximately $1.2 million." 

Spending an extra $1.2 million to make this transition is inappropriate.  This is $1.2 million that could be made available to the tuition support fund that is in desperate need of more money.  Additionally, it is $1.2 million more than Indiana now spends on teacher professional development, a line item that was zeroed out during the Bennett years.

As the bill reads now, this change to grade 2 does not apply to charter schools and, of course, it does not apply to private schools.  If enacted, parents who object to high stakes testing for their child in the second grade would have no choice but to transfer to a private or charter school.  This would hurt public school enrollment which reduces the resources for all public school students.  Perhaps that is the motivation for this bill.  It would put new regulations in place for public schools but not for the competitors of public schools in the grand marketplace of schools that the Indiana General Assembly has created.  This is not fair to public schools. 

It is not clear who supports this bill that Senator Houchin is sponsoring.  High stakes testing for grade 2 students has not been a well publicized issue.  Governor Orr’s original ISTEP testing plan starting in 1988 included testing all 1st and 2nd graders but not for high stakes retention purposes.  In the early 1990’s, 1st and 2nd graders were dropped from the testing plan altogether, leaving grade 3 as the earliest assessment level.  The concern expressed by testing experts over the forty years I have been watching this topic is that testing results for young students are unreliable and unstable.  That is why experts for decades have recommended starting large scale assessment in grade 3, a level followed by both the ISTEP law in Indiana and the federal No Child Left Behind Act.

Senator Houchin is not an educator.  She is newly elected to the seat held by Democratic Senator Richard Young since 1988.  Prior to being elected to the Indiana Senate, she served on the staff of Senator Coats. Newly drawn district lines tilted the district to a bigger Republican base. 

Two education points Senator Houchin made in her campaign were (1) we need to direct more dollars to the classroom and (2) we need to maintain local control.  Senate Bill 169 disregards both of these points.  Regarding the first point, testing and evaluation are officially categorized as overhead in the flawed “Dollars to the Classroom” ratings resurrected recently by Speaker Bosma, so dollars used to implement grade 2 testing would not be going to the classroom.  Secondly, state required high stakes tests for grade 2 would be taking local control away from local teachers and principals and putting the decision about retaining second graders in the hands of state test makers.

It doesn’t make sense. 

Senate Committee Procedures

The Senate Education Committee is scheduled to meet Wednesday, January 14th in the Senate Chamber at approximately 2:30 after the Chief Justice gives the annual State of the Judiciary speech.  Senate Bill 169 will be the fifth of six bills that Chairman Kruse will call, which means that any teacher or parent who can get to the Statehouse by 3:00pm might participate in the hearing.  To testify, each person needs to fill out a form held by the committee attorney and then wait to be called.  I know that many second grade teachers and parents would like to speak strongly against putting second graders into the high stakes testing arena.  Come if you can. 

If you can’t come to speak, you can contact members of the committee to share your feelings about this proposal.  Senator Kruse chairs the committee.  Senators Yoder, Banks, Bassler, Leising, Pete Miller, Raatz, and Schneider are the Republicans on the committee.  Senators Rogers, Mrvan and Stoops are the Democrats on the committee.  You can email them using the Indiana General Assembly website:  http://iga.in.gov.  Remember to let your own Senator know how you feel about SB 169 as well.

Thanks for your efforts in support of public education 

Best wishes,

Vic Smith      vic790@aol.com

Vic’s Statehouse Notes #189 – January 5, 2015 

Dear Friends,

The voluntary give-back of $3.9 million by voucher schools to the state coffers raises more questions than it answers: 

  • Did all voucher schools give back the amounts that were overcharged or only those voucher schools that wanted to?
  • When did they know that they had overcharged the state for the vouchers and how long did they wait until repaying it?  Did they include interest? 
  • Are overcharges for private school vouchers still going on in some schools?
  • Who is checking the income levels of families receiving vouchers as required by law? 
  • If the state didn’t ask for the give-back, who knew that the voucher payments were wrong to initiate the give-back?  How did they know?
  • Will it take a state-ordered audit to get the voucher charges right? 

Governor Pence should answer all questions about these overpayments before he makes any move to ask the General Assembly to give even more taxpayer money for private school vouchers using the wrong amounts.

The Unexpected Give-Back 

The announcement reported in the Indianapolis Star on Dec.18th that private voucher schools are giving back $3.9 million to the state for “tuition miscalculations” was apparently not prompted by state action.  Voucher schools apparently knew they had overcharged the state and “are policing themselves”, in the words of a press release from the Indiana Non-Public School Association.

Why are they policing themselves?  Is the voucher law deficient in providing state oversight?  Is this the way to run a multi-million dollar voucher program? 

Or in the words of the banner headline in the Dec. 30th Indianapolis Star:  “Who’s Watching Voucher Dollars?”

A Multi-Million Dollar Program for Private Schools

Millions of taxpayer dollars are now flowing to private and religious schools due to the 2011 voucher w and the 2013 expansion.  The latest financial report on vouchers from the Indiana Department of Education dated June 17, 2014 reported that vouchers cost the state $16.2 million in the first year, $37.3 million in the second year, and $81.1 million in the third year, totaling $134.6 million over three years (2011-2014). 

Now after a “self-study”, private schools are giving back $3.9 million, which represents 2.9% of the $134.6 million paid out by the state for vouchers over three years. 

This is more than chump change.  The $3.9 million is more than the state of Indiana invests annually in school technology in the Senator Ford Technology Fund, which is budgeted at $3.1 million per year.  It is also more than the $3.76 million budgeted each of the past two years for the State Board of Education.

 

Answers are Needed Before Any Consideration of Expansion 

Governor Pence has included in his legislative agenda an expansion of voucher fees to give even more money to private schools.  How do we really know how much that will cost after these voluntary give backs have left a trail of unanswered questions?

Public school advocates should ask their legislators to halt any expansion of vouchers in light of the questions surrounding the “tuition miscalculations.”  Legislators should not remove the cap on vouchers. They should investigate this situation and find solid answers for the taxpayers about this strange set of circumstances in which private schools are policing themselves after getting overpaid for the voucher program. 

Legislators convene to discuss these matters on Tuesday, January 6th.  I urge you to communicate with members of the General Assembly regularly throughout the session in support of public education.  Thanks for your efforts!

Best wishes,

 

Vic Smith      vic790@aol.com

    

Vic’s Statehouse Notes #188 – December 18, 2014  

Dear Friends, 

Governor Pence in announcing his legislative agenda on December 4th seemingly gave a blank check to private school tuition increases which would all be paid for by the taxpayers.

Did he really mean to say that, or is a “correction” or “clarification” soon to come? 

His agenda document calls for “removing the cap on Choice Scholarships” after noting that “On average, public charter and voucher schools are funded at lower levels than traditional public schools.”

Removing the $4800 cap on Choice Scholarships will help private school parents pay less out of pocket for the balance of the tuition, but it won’t help voucher schools get more funding unless the voucher schools raise their tuition.  Apparently the Governor’s plan would allow whatever tuition increases the voucher schools want and the taxpayers would pay for all of it.  No more caps! 

I am told that Brebeuf, one of the voucher schools, charges tuition of $17,000 per student.  Does the Governor think that taxpayers should pay for whatever tuition the private school may ask? 

At state universities, tuition is set by the board of each institution, but legislators have never been asked to raise state funding to cover whatever the board asks.  Does Governor Pence really want legislators to do so for K-12 private schools?

Let your legislators know you have a problem with the Governor’s blank check for funding private schools.

Fiscal Cost of Removing the Cap

The Office of the Governor has estimated the fiscal cost of lifting the cap on voucher payments as $3.5 million, according to a report in the Indianapolis Star. 

Legislators should question this surprisingly low fiscal cost estimate.  Using the Governor’s figure of 30,000 vouchers for this current school year, his $3.5 million estimate would mean an increase of only $115 per voucher.  It is highly unlikely that private school parents are only averaging $115 as their share of the private school charges.  That figure is less than public school parents pay for textbook rental.

In addition, the $3.5 cost estimate seems to completely underestimate the true cost of paying whatever the private schools ask in increased tuition.  Is the Governor going to add a regulation saying that private schools may not raise their tuition to take inappropriate advantage of the Governor’s generosity?

Is this leading to price controls from the Governor on private school tuition increases?

Fiscal Costs of the Total Voucher Program 

The voucher program in its first two years (2011-12 and 2012-13) had no fiscal cost to the state, even though the funds from the start have hurt public schools by diverting the money to private schools.  Overall, the voucher payments were deliberately held below the costs of public school payments to guarantee an overall savings.  A savings of about $4 million was redistributed to all public schools in those first two years. 

Governor Pence’s 2013 voucher expansion turned a savings into a new fiscal cost.  He expanded the eligibility list to the point that about 40% of all private school vouchers in 2013-14 went to students who had always been in private school.  This move ended the savings and produced an overall $15.7 million new fiscal cost to the taxpayers.

Under Governor Pence, vouchers were no longer about facilitating a choice.  They were about subsidizing private school parents to help the private and religious schools boost enrollment. 

Even taking the Governor’s estimate at face value, his 2015 agenda would escalate the proven, most conservative listing of fiscal costs of the voucher program to $19.2 million.  This is the sum of the $3.5 million for removing the caps plus the $15.7 million fiscal cost for 2013-14 reported in the most recent financial report on Choice Scholarships from the IDOE Division of Finance in June, 2014.  

At $19.2 million, this financial benefit for private school parents now gets more state dollars than:

  • Summer school - $18.4 million per year 
  • Gifted and talented programs - $12.6 Million per year 
  • Preschool pilot scholarships - $10 million per year 
  • Alternative public schools - $6.1 million per year 
  • Non-English Speaking Program - $5 million per year 
  • Senator Ford Technology program - $3.1 million per year
  • Professional Development - $0 per year (funding ended in the 2011 budget)

  • Let your legislators know that you disagree with the idea of prioritizing more money for private school vouchers over all the other needs of the one million plus public school students.  It just doesn’t make sense.

    Governor Pence Has Thrown Governor Daniels’ Voucher Program Under the Bus 

    Governor Daniels’ gave a speech at Harvard in November, 2012 saying how Indiana created the voucher program the right way.   “We said to the public schools, you get first shot!” he said. “If you do a good job they’re not going to want to leave. “  The Daniels’ program focused on giving parents a choice and on saving the state money.

    Governor Pence when he became Governor in 2013 quickly changed the focus to helping private school parents pay for a choice they had already made.  He passed a voucher expansion in the 2013 session creating four pathways to become eligible for a voucher when students had never attended a private school.  It was no longer about choice.  It was about subsidizing private school parents. 

    In 2013-14, about 40% of the 19, 000 vouchers were for students who had never attended a public school first and therefore were a new fiscal cost to the state.  Any savings were wiped out, and the state was left with a new fiscal cost of $15.7 million.  The distribution of $4 million in savings back to school districts which the Daniels’ program had bragged about for the first two years suddenly ended in under Governor Pence.

     

    Contact your legislators now to let them know you disagree with this trend of sending more and more millions to private school parents when it is not even clear that there is enough money in the new budget to correct the shortages for public schools that have become so apparent after the paltry 1% increase in the current year, well below the cost of living.

    Please keep up your great support of public schools!

    Best wishes,

     

    Vic Smith      vic790@aol.com


    Vic's Statehouse Notes #181, August 5, 2014

Dear Friends,

During the 2013 budget session of the Indiana General Assembly, Joel Hand testified repeatedly on behalf of the Indiana Coalition for Public Education that the voucher expansion bill would add a major new fiscal cost to the state.  The era when vouchers would save the state money would be over.

I and others gave similar testimony, but the General Assembly passed the huge voucher expansion bill anyway.

Now the data for 2013-14 are in and the Indiana Department of Education has reported that the voucher program cost the state $15.7 million dollars to pay for private school tuition.  The savings of $4.9 million in the previous 2012-13 school year was transformed into a significant outright cost of $15.7 by Governor Pence’s voucher expansion bill.

Indiana is now spending more of your tax dollars to pay for private school tuition for students who have always been in private schools than programs for gifted and talented students ($12.8 million), for preschool ($10 million), for Non-English speaking students ($5.5 million) and for teacher professional development ($0). See chart here.

How Did This Happen?  Paying for Students Where the Choice was Already Made

In large part, the voucher bill was sold to legislators in 2011 on the argument that it would save the state money.  Vouchers were set at a fixed amount for elementary students ($4500 in 2011-12 and then upped to $4700 in 2013-14), a level below the average state tuition support in most but not all public school districts. For secondary students the voucher was set at 90% of what the student’s public school was getting for that student. 

Most importantly, vouchers were given only to students who had attended public schools in the previous two semesters.  It was a formula to guarantee the state would save money when students transferred from public schools to private schools, a formula that worked for two years, saving $4.2 million and $4.9 million in the first two years of the program, according to the financial officials writing the IDOE report.

The projected savings even became a talking point in the historic 2011 debate on the original voucher bill.  Rural legislators who did not expect that their schools would be impacted by vouchers were told that their schools would make money on the voucher bill because the savings would be distributed to all schools based on the school funding formula rather than going back to only the schools where the students had transferred out.  Based on that belief, some legislators went along with the voucher bill to help their small districts back home.

A bill in the 2012 short session would have opened up the voucher system to high school students who had never been to public schools by allowing them a tax credit scholarship without first attending a public school, but the bill failed due to strong opposition by public school advocates and ICPE.

Then came the 2013 voucher expansion bill.  Representative Behning, the bill’s sponsor, with the strong support of Governor Pence, Speaker Bosma and Senate President Pro Tem Long, went all out to dismantle the concept that students needed to go to public school first to qualify for vouchers.  Governor Daniels had endorsed a “try public school first” philosophy and had even trumpeted that philosophy in a speech at Harvard as the right way to go.  The Daniels philosophy was quickly thrown under the bus by Gov. Pence and Rep. Behning in HB 1003 in 2013. 

Representative Behning’s original bill would allow kindergarteners with no public school experience to get vouchers.  Senator Kenley contested that approach, questioning the fiscal cost.  In a memorable debate in the Senate Education Committee, Representative Behning told Senator Kenley that he really wants universal vouchers, endorsing the concept that all private school students could get vouchers, despite the $500 million cost to taxpayers that Senator Kenley had projected.

It was clear in that debate that vouchers as a money-saver for the state was just a ploy to get a foot in the door.  Vouchers for all private school students was the real goal.  Taxpayers would eventually be asked to pay for all religious and private school tuition.

What were the Numbers for 2013-14?  

The IDOE financial report has reported the number of vouchers and the costs for the first year after the voucher expansion bill was passed into law.  In 2013-14, Indiana taxpayers paid for 19,809 vouchers to private schools, costing $81,066,786.  Dividing these two figures shows that the average per voucher was $4092.

To understand how the savings has disappeared, it is best to break the voucher total into two groups. In Group 1, 12,030 vouchers went to students who transferred from public to private schools, the “choice” students the original bill was designed to help.  In Group 2, 7,779 vouchers went to students who had always been in private schools and had never been in a public school.  These “always been in private school” students were given vouchers based on four expanded pathways in the 2013 expansion law:  (1) sibling vouchers, (2) vouchers for all special education students, (3) vouchers for students residing in the attendance area of an F school, and (4) expanded use of vouchers for students receiving a Scholarship Granting Organization scholarship for students who had never attended a public school.

Taking the 12,030 students in Group 1 who transferred from public to private school and multiplying by the $4092 average produces a total of $50 million for students of families who made a choice to leave the public school and transfer to a private school.  This $50 million was diverted from public schools, so that meant $50 million less in resources available to the remaining public school students across the state.  From the point of view of the state, however, this portion of the voucher program saved money, somewhere in the order of $15 million. 

For the other 7,779 getting vouchers in Group 2, there was no money saving for the state.  These students had never gone to a public school and had already chosen from the start of their schooling in Indiana to go to a private school.  Thanks to the 2013 voucher expansion bill, they got vouchers anyway.  Multiplying 7,779 students times the average voucher amount of $4092 produces a total of $31 million.  This is all a new expense for the state. 

 

Thus there are two groups of voucher students.  One group of students chose to leave public schools for a less expensive private school, as the 2011 program envisioned.  This group cost the state $50 million in 2013-14 and saved the state approximately $15 million compared to what the state would have paid if those students had remained in public schools. 

 

The second group did not follow this path.  It is comprised of students that have always been in private schools.  This group cost the state $31 million, and totally wiped out the $15 million savings from group one, leaving a net fiscal cost to the state of roughly $16 million as reported by IDOE.

Thus endeth the voucher program as a money saver for the state of Indiana.  Now we are hearing all the arguments from voucher proponents about why taxpayers should shell out even more for private and religious schools.  Their goal again is to have the taxpayers of Indiana pay for all private and parochial school tuition. 

From What Budget Does the New Fiscal Cost for Vouchers Come?

The General Assembly did not set up a line item for vouchers in the state budget.  Given that, where will the $15.7 million come from to pay for the new voucher costs? 

Voucher payments to private schools have always come out of the line item for public school tuition support.  This fit with the theory that whatever the costs of vouchers for students transferring out of public schools, the costs would always be less than the costs for those students had they stayed in public schools.  Now, this has all changed.

The General Assembly added $132 million to the tuition support budget for 2013-2014, an anemic 2% increase over the previous year.   The $15.7 million for vouchers has to come from that amount.  Subtracting out the bill for private school vouchers shows that the true increase for 2013-14 was about $115 million, turning the 2% increase into a 1.74% increase.

That 2% increase was already an historic low increase for public school funding.  Except during the Great Recession budgets in 2009 and 2011, schools had not dipped below 2.4% in the last 20 years.  A 2% increase has left many school districts in dire financial condition as they just try to maintain current programs.  Now the extra money for private school vouchers will dig further into the money for public school programs.

This is exactly the scenario that Joel Hand painted for legislators as he lobbied on behalf of ICPE against voucher expansion in the 2013 session.  At the last moment of the budget session in the final budget version, legislators acknowledged that the problem was real by adding a $25 million dollar emergency fund which the budget committee could vote to use to supplement the tuition support budget.  In the words of Ways of Means Chairman Tim Brown as the final budget was presented for passage, this fund “would protect the foundational support.”  Otherwise, public schools would have to give back a share of what they had already been promised to pay for the $15.7 million in new costs for vouchers.

I have not heard if the budget committee has made any plans to implement this $25 million “foundational protection” fund, but they will need to do so unless somehow they over budgeted for public school tuition support.  We should all be watching for that move, which no doubt will be done quietly and close to the vest in order to avoid the questions this raises about the expensive 2013 voucher expansion.

As if this situation wasn’t bad enough for public school funding, the school budget for the second year of the biennium in 2014-15 lifted school funding by only 1%, well below the 1.6% cost of living cited in expert testimony during the 2013 budget process.  This 1% increase meant an additional budgeted amount of $69 million for tuition support in 2014-15.  If another $15 million is spent in 2014-15 on the voucher program, the new tuition support amount for public schools would drop to $54 million, making the true increase only 0.78%.

Fortunately, the $25 million “bailout fund” was set up for 2014-15 as well.  It looks like it will be needed.

All this makes funding for the 1 million plus students in public schools look like an afterthought, and indeed it has become that.  We should never lose track of the thought that lower resources for public school students translate to higher class sizes and lower funding for student programs, especially for extra programs addressing students who need extra help.  Public schools serve the vast majority of students of poverty, and the historically low biennial budget of 2% and 1% has certainly hurt programs to help them.

Spinning 

When these voucher figures were released in June, the voucher proponents went right to work to spin the message.  Their protests led columnist Matthew Tully, a voucher supporter, to write “the state Department of Education released a report claiming, dubiously, that the state’s recently expanded voucher program cost Indiana $16 million last year.” (Indianapolis Star, June 25, 2014)

There is nothing dubious about the IDOE figures.  The steps IDOE followed to determine the savings from the voucher program were written by the General Assembly. 

The General Assembly, not the IDOE, set up the formula for determining savings in non-code provisions of the budget bill. The five steps prescribed in the budget are summarized as follows and can also be seen on page 21 of the IDOE report: 

Step 1: determine the total amount distributed in the year for voucher scholarships.

Step 2: determine the total amount public schools including charter (but not virtual charter) schools would have received if those students who received voucher scholarships and who were enrolled in a public school during the preceding two semesters “had instead remained enrolled in public schools and had not enrolled in private schools.” 

Step 3: subtract the first number from the second number.

Step 4: determine the percentage of the total state tuition support distributed to each school district and to each charter school (excluding virtual charter schools).

Step 5:  multiply the amount of savings in Step 3 by the percentage in Step 4 to determine how much of the savings goes back to each district and charter school.

In the words of the report, “The five-step calculation resulted in no savings from the Choice Scholarship Program for the 2013-14 school year.  Therefore, the Department will not make a savings distribution to school corporations and charter schools.”

It seems obvious that when 7779 vouchers (39%) were given out for students who had never attended a public school and for which the state had to pay the full amount without any savings factor, there would be no overall savings.  The 2013 voucher expansion law clearly turned the voucher program from a money saver to new fiscal cost for the taxpayers of Indiana.

Let your legislators know you are very disappointed that they expanded vouchers in 2013 and created an expensive additional fiscal cost of nearly $16 million.   That money could have been used for preschool or similar important education priorities other than paying for students to go to the private schools that they have always gone to.

Your messages on behalf of public education make a big difference.  Thanks for participating!  Please keep up your steadfast support of public schools! 

Best wishes,

 

Vic Smith      vic790@aol.com




Vic’s Statehouse Notes
#180 – July 8, 2014  Dear Friends,

 The banned metrics of measuring student growth by comparisons with peers are back again.  Despite a law getting rid of them, the State Board will vote on a resolution tomorrow to use them another year.

HEA 1427 was passed by the Indiana General Assembly in 2013 saying that the A-F system in Indiana “may not be based on a measurement of student performance or growth compared with peers.”  This culminated a three year effort to fix the flawed A-F system by rejecting the use of bell curve statistics in assessing student growth and by measuring the growth of students against fixed criteria. 

Now, a resolution brought by State Board member Brad Oliver is on the July 9th State Board agenda which, among other topics, would use peer comparisons to measure growth again in 2014-15.

It is as if the General Assembly didn’t pass HEA 1427 at all.  How can the State Board continue to ignore the law? 

I urge you to contact State Board members before their July 9th meeting to say that the “Resolution Regarding ESEA Waiver Compliance” is wrong on growth and should be withdrawn.

Evading the Law 

I and others have been campaigning against the unfairness of judging growth through comparisons to statewide peers since 2011.  I rejoiced when the Indiana General Assembly passed the following language in 2013 in HEA 1427, Section 5:

“Not later than November 15, 2013, the state board shall establish new categories or designations of school performance under the requirements of this chapter to replace 511 IAC 6.2-6. The new standards of assessing school performance:
        (1) must be based on a measurement of individual student academic performance and growth to proficiency; and
        (2) may not be based on a measurement of student performance or growth compared with peers.
511 IAC 6.2-6 is void on the effective date of the emergency or final rules adopted under this section.”
 

I thought the law would actually be implemented, but state board members have resisted.  State Board Secretary Dan Elsener has stated many times in meetings his support of the current system that the General Assembly tried to void.  Now the Oliver resolution breathes more life into the flawed growth measure using the following language:  (this is but a small part of the resolution with many controversial points)

 

“WHEREAS, Dr. Damian Betebenner, an associate at The National Center for the Improvement of Educational Assessment in Dover, New Hampshire, who advised Indiana on the creation of the Indiana Growth Model, and who is under contract with the SBOE to advise on modifications to the state’s A-F school accountability system, has found that growth may be calculated utilizing data from the2014-2015 ISTEP+ assessment using an equi-percentile concordance analysis that will be both valid and reliable.

 

  • Per SBOE regulation, 511 IAC 6.2-6 shall be followed for the A-F School Accountability System for federal and state accountability purposes;
 
  • Growth in 2014-15 shall be calculated according to the methodology recommended by Dr. Damian Betebenner and approved by the SBOE;” 

Dr. Betebenner has described in a report that his recommendation is based on Student Growth Percentiles, the same methodology Dr. Bennett put in the A-F system that the General Assembly tried to void due to the peer comparisons used. 

Dr. Betebenner devised the system that the General Assembly rejected.  Of course he is going to say that it is just fine. 

This resolution shows that the State Board has made no progress in getting Indiana to criterion-referenced comparisons for growth as the General Assembly asked for and as we all should ask for.

Send a Message 

I urge you to send a message today to State Board members with a copy to your legislators.  The message is that the “Resolution Regarding ESEA Waiver Compliance” has not been vetted and should be withdrawn.  It tries to reverse the General Assembly’s action in HEA 1427 to remove peer comparisons from Indiana’s growth model.

The entire proposed resolution with all of its controversies can be seen on this link: 

http://in.gov/sboe/files/2014-07-09_Resolution_-_ESEA_Waiver.pdf

It is astonishing that the State Board is ignoring the call for fair comparisons in Indiana’s growth model.  The growth of every student should be measured based on fixed criterion measures, not on Student Growth Percentiles or any other metric where growth can vary based on how peers across the state perform. 

Your messages make a big difference.  Thanks for participating!  Please keep up your steadfast support of fair metrics to judge the performance of public schools!

Best wishes, 

Vic Smith      vic790@aol.com

 


Vic’s Statehouse Notes #179 – May 21, 2014
   
Dear Friends,

On May 14th, the State Board of Education in a close 6-5 vote made a fundamental error in lowering the standards teachers for a teaching license in Indiana.  Indiana doesn’t need lower standards for teachers.

By the Board’s close vote, the concept is still alive in the REPA 3 package of licensing rules to allow graduates with no teacher training or student teaching to get a two-year renewable license to teach secondary students in Indiana.

After noting the discussion points below, I urge all advocates for strong public schools to contact their State Board member and all State Board members to register your surprise that the idea of giving a teaching license to untrained teachers is still alive in REPA 3.  We need to maintain our current standards for teachers and not to lower them.

Proposed by Dr. Bennett in 2012, the pathway to a teacher license without first studying how to teach is still alive.

REPA 3 Discussion at the May 14th Meeting

Jill Shedd of the Association for Teacher Education – Indiana and Keith Gambill of the ISTA started the meeting with public comments opposing the Adjunct Teaching license.  Both articulately explained that Emergency Licenses, Advanced Degree Licenses and Transition-to-Teaching Licenses provide all the flexibility and alternative licensing pathways that administrators or future teachers need.  

After considerable discussion which included changing the name from “Adjunct Teacher” to “Career Specialist”, Superintendent Ritz moved to strike consideration in REPA 3 of the Adjunct Teacher license which could provide a renewable license to graduates who have had no teacher training or student teaching.  After a lengthy debate and a roll call vote, the motion to strike failed 5-6.

Proponents:  Six Votes For the Adjunct License Proposal

Of the six votes for retaining the Adjunct license concept, three were appointed by Gov. Daniels:  Dan Elsener, B.J. Watts and Tony Walker.  Three were appointed by Gov. Pence:  David Freitas, Andrea Neal and  Gordon Hendry.

Proponents glamorized this proposal as a new pathway for teachers.  Dan Elsener said we should “respect superintendents.” He said, as quoted in Eric Weddle’s story in the Indianapolis Star (May 15, 2014, pA10), “I like opening up the field.  I think it is opening another option, and no one has to do this.  The quality and type of training in a professional growth program is a local option.  If they find a new and better mousetrap to develop a teacher, I like that innovation.”

I imagine the teacher training programs of Indiana really love to be compared to “mousetraps.” He also seems unaware that funding for local professional development programs is a huge problem since the state zeroed out its professional development budget four years ago.

Andrea Neal pointedly demanded to see the research that teacher training programs did a better job in prepping teachers than on-the-job mentorships.

I imagine that same question was asked by naysayers in 1918 when my first alma mater became Ball State Teacher’s College.

Have the 100 years of experience in training teachers in Indiana been worthless?  Some want our citizens to think so.  I certainly disagree.

Brad Oliver, in response, asked Andrea Neal for the research that a simple mentorship program would be as effective as a teacher training program.  Later Board Member Neal cited a study that she said favored mentoring, not indicating whether the study was about mentoring that was completed before the first class was taught, which is the point of this controversy.

Opponents: Five Votes Against the Adjunct License Proposal     

Of the five votes to strike the Adjunct license concept, two were appointed by Gov. Daniels:  Cari Whicker and Sarah O’Brien.  Two were appointed by Gov. Pence:  Brad Oliver and Troy Albert.  The latter two are the only members of the board with significant public school experience in hiring secondary teachers.  The fifth vote was by Superintendent Ritz.

Brad Oliver led off the discussion expressing his opposition.  He said as a former member of the Professional Standards Board, he could not support the Adjunct concept.  The Star quoted him as well:  “We are the last gateway to make sure that anybody that is in front of a child has had at least modern similarity of standards.  I am not saying they have to go through a full program to get into the classroom… but how do we ensure quality and what are the quality controls that people in front of our students are well prepared?”

He said if there were no current “flexibility”, he might support this step, but he cited the three current pathways to alternative licensing as sufficient.  He called the Adjunct proposal an “unregulated alternative pathway to what we already have,” one in which principals would make the decision about allowing an untrained teacher to get an initial license.

Later he cited the General Assembly’s work to make teacher education programs more accountable by tracking the outcomes of their graduates.  He said that trend doesn’t square with this move to let untrained teachers get a license.

He has accurately described the huge disconnect between closer regulation of teacher preparation by the General Assembly led by Senator Banks and deregulation of teacher preparation via this move by the State Board.

Troy Albert emphatically said that the Adjunct proposal is “repetitive in my opinion.  Going further would be a mistake.”  He said that already every person who wants to teach can get in through one of the existing pathways.

Cari Whicker emphasized the importance of student teaching and said teachers should have some pedagogy training before teaching.

Analysis

What is new in the flawed proposal to lower standards is that a two-year license would be issued to teachers prior to any pedagogical training and to any student teaching.  Every experienced teacher knows that the most important hour of any class they are teaching is the first hour when rules and expectations of the class are made clear.  The tone and standards of the class are set.  A new teacher has to be ready for Day One or the productivity of the class may be damaged for the enter semester.  This proposal overlooks that crucial point.

It also overlooks the way principals rely on the track record from student teaching and from teacher training to hire the best teachers.  Members of the State Board who favored this flawed proposal spoke glowingly of the freedom principals will have to select new talent for their school.  As a former principal, I can tell you that principals are too busy to independently investigate the abilities of teaching candidates who do not have any record of teacher training.  Selecting such a person would be an inappropriate gamble.  We should not experiment with the education of Hoosier students.  We should continue to require all who stand before a classroom on the first day of school to be trained and ready to teach.  

Finally, the State Board’s proposal sends a disrespectful message to all currently licensed secondary teachers, telling them that this board thinks that they didn’t really need to study teaching and pedagogy to be successful teachers and that learning about child development, curriculum, assessment, differentiated instruction and cultural differences can easily be learned on the job as the school days roll on.

Current college students may fall into the trap of thinking that they can easily be successful teachers without a serious study of how to teach.  We need new teachers who have made a commitment. This experiment with our students ignores over 100 years of experience with teacher training in Indiana at our institutions of higher learning, experience which tells us that the best teachers are well-trained teachers who are ready from Day One.  

What You Can Do

It is heartening to think that in 2012 there were only two votes against the Adjunct Teacher proposal and now there are five.  One more vote is needed when the final language comes back to the State Board for approval in June or July.

There seems to be no pattern in the voting based on instructions from Governor Pence.  The Pence appointees voted 3-2 against striking the Adjunct concept, and the Daniels appointees also voted 3-2 against.  This suggests that every member is voting based on personal experience and may be persuaded by advocacy before the next vote.

It is notable that all five of the opponents are veteran teachers or school administrators, while of the six proponents of the Adjunct concept, three have no K-12 teaching experience.

I urge you to contact State Board members on this issue.  Let them know that you think the alternative pathways we now have are flexible and sufficient and that we should never allow a teacher to get a license and teach students without any pedagogical training or any student teaching.  That is simply not right.

Your messages on behalf of public education make a big difference.  Thanks for participating!  Please keep up your steadfast support of public schools!

Best wishes,

Vic Smith      vic790@aol.com


Vic’s Statehouse Notes #178 – March 13, 2014

Dear Friends, 

Good news on the last day of the session:  the preschool bill House Bill 1004 was passed today by both the House and the Senate creating a 5-county pilot program without any link to K-12 vouchers.  Sections 10 and 11 which many of you have written about have disappeared.  To public school advocates who contacted legislators about keeping K-12 vouchers out of the preschool bill, I say thank you! 

This key bill represents both a new day for preschool in Indiana and a rare moment of success for public school advocates.  Thanks to all who participated! 

Details of House Bill 1004

A silence lasting several days on the preschool bill was broken when a Conference Committee on 1004 was held at 9:00 am this morning.  Representative Behning reviewed the key features of the Conference Committee report: 

A pilot program will be established in five counties selected by FSSA.

The Family and Social Services Administration will supervise the program.

Families making 127% of poverty will qualify for grants of $2500 up to $6800.

It will be funded by unspent money reverted to FSSA and by CCDF block grant money.

At least 10% of the funds are to be from private donations or from federal funding.

The receipt of a grant has no impact on eligibility for a K-12 choice scholarship.

A longitudinal study will follow 4 year olds in the program through their assessment results in Grade 3.

Expenditures are limited to $10 million in the first year, with a limit of an additional $1 million for the longitudinal study.

Providers may include public or private preschools that meet Level 3 or 4 standards in the “paths to Quality program.

A prekindergarten and early learning study commission will study ten key topics to develop Indiana’s program.

 All  All members of the Conference Committee should be thanked for advancing this proposal:  Representatives Behning, VanDenburgh, Thompson, Sullivan and Vernon Smith and Senators Pete Miller, Rogers, Kenley, Broden, Kruse and Yoder.  Senator Kenley played a crucial role in bringing the House and Senate versions together.

Floor Votes on HB 1004

The House voted first this afternoon on HB 1004, passing the bill 92-8.  All Democrats voted for the bill along with most Republicans, except for Representative Baird, Culver, Harman, Ober, Rhoads, Thompson, Turner and Wesco.

I was able to hear the floor debate in the Senate.  Senator Pete Miller introduced and supported the bill as the sponsor.  Senator Schneider then rose to oppose the bill, calling it a “budget buster” and a “camel’s nose under the tent” for a “catastrophic fiscal impact on the state of Indiana.”  Senator Holdman supported the bill, especially the longitudinal study and the “paths to Quality” standards.  Senator Head rose to support the bill, saying it is run on reverted funds and that the sunset provisions “won’t let the camel get too far.”  Senator Becker supported the bill, saying that Evansville business leaders have already told her they will help support the matching dollars.  Senator Rogers then rose to support the bill, saying that if we can expend revenue for breaks to business as they just did for Senate Bill 1, they can fund a small preschool pilot program.  She called it a matter of priorities.  Senator Leising supported the bill, urging the early learning commission to coordinate several early childhood programs already funded by federal and special education dollars.

Then came the vote. The Senate passed the bill 40-8, with Senators Crider, Delph, Kruse, Schneider, Smith, Tomes, Yoder, and Michael Young voting no.

Senate Bill 1 easily passed both houses today allowing local options to reduce the business property tax and putting approximately $2 million in school property tax funding at risk two years from now, as I described in Statehouse Notes #177 last Tuesday.

The House adjourned sine die about 10:00 pm this evening and the Senate did the same at 10:40.  The short session is over.  It is a rare treat and a great pleasure to be able to report a success for public education on the last day of the session. 

Your messages throughout the session on behalf of public education made a big difference.  Thanks for participating!

Please keep up your steadfast support of public schools! 

Best wishes,

Vic Smith      vic790@aol.com


Vic’s Statehouse Notes
#177 – March 11, 2014

Dear Friends, 

The Conference Committee on Senate Bill 1 and House Bill 1001 met at 4:30 this afternoon to make public the details to reduce the business property tax.  Hopes that it would all go to a study committee to delay any damage to local government and school revenues were not fulfilled.  Local school revenues are likely to take a hit based on two local options made available to each county, effective two years from now for property taxes payable in 2017.

The “Replace Don’t Erase” Coalition worked hard to eliminate the local option provisions to keep counties from pressuring each other to cut taxes, thus cutting school, library and local government revenue.  The RDE efforts mitigated the potential damage, but the final deal now has two types of local options.  If school and local government revenues are to be left intact, county officials will have to reject both local options, an outcome that seems unlikely. 

Provisions of SB 1/ HB 1001

The provisions of the bill were presented by Senator Hershman, Senate Republican Conferee, with the support of Representative Turner, the House Republican Conferee.  Senator Tallian, the Senate Democrat Conferee, brought an alternative plan which deleted the corporate tax reduction and the local option for reducing property tax on new equipment, an alternative which had the support of Representative Porter, the House Democrat Conferee.  The alternative plan was not accepted.

Here are the main provisions unveiled today: 

Corporate tax rate reduction to 4.9% over 6 years.

       Financial Institutions Tax (FIT) rate reduction to 4.9% over 6 years.

 

Local option small business personal property tax exemption.

 

If the local COIT board approves, this would allow small businesses to exempt personal property with an acquisition cost less than $20,000.  LSA estimates that if every county did this, $7.6 million would be shifted to other taxpayers and $6.6 million would be lost to local budgets due to circuit breakers.  Of this $6.6 million, $2.0 million would be lost to schools.

When the Senate proposed this plan, it was a statewide plan with a fixed statewide cost that theoretically might have been replaced with state dollars.  The new proposal today is to make this a local option with no prospect of state replacement dollars.

 

Local option for the elimination of property tax on new business personal property.

 

If the local COIT board approves, new business equipment would be exempted from the business property tax.  Eventually as all equipment is replaced, the property tax on equipment will slowly disappear and local school and government revenue will fall.

 

The Impact on School Revenue

 

There is no good news here for public school revenue, except perhaps that it might have been worse.  From the start of this debate, reducing the business property tax was going to damage public school property tax revenue.  The only question was whether it would be a huge hit or a small hit.  Intense lobbying has reduced the size of the problem, but there is still a problem if school officials don’t convince county officials of the wisdom of rejecting the local options, an unlikely prospect.

 

Governor Pence wanted to help businesses, and he didn’t mind doing that at the expense of revenues for schools, libraries and local government.  He worked hard to make this happen in a sometimes reluctant legislature.  Now that they have followed his lead, at least $2 million per year in school property tax revenue is at risk, just at the time when the great competition between public and private schools for the hearts and minds of parents is revving up, a competition created by the voucher program passed by the General Assembly in 2011 and expanded with Governor Pence’s strong support in 2013.

 

There is something wrong when Indiana’s grand experiment in a competitive marketplace is set up and then public schools are threatened with a new cut in their funding.  It doesn’t look like fair competition to me.  It looks to me like public school revenue support is being undermined in a creative new way every year, and the favoritism shown by the Governor for private schools in the competition and his willingness to let public school funding erode remain obvious.

 

This proposal today had the air of finality.  It seems clear that it will go through as presented. 

 

Let your legislators know that they are to be thanked for mitigating the original plan which threatened even deeper cuts to school budgets. You might also let them know you are disappointed that $2 million in public school revenues have been put at risk through these local option proposals. 

 

In addition, you might ponder these things in your heart as you consider the elections coming up in May and in November.  Some have taken comfort in the fact that implementation is two years away and this might be changed in the new budget in the next General Assembly after the next election.

 

As of late Tuesday evening, there is no further information on the status of the preschool bill.

 

Thanks for your active support of public education!

 

Best wishes,

 

Vic Smith      vic790@aol.com

 


Vic’s Statehouse Notes
#176 – March 8, 2014

Dear Friends, 

The “Replace Don’t Erase” Coalition has invited all who can make it to the Statehouse on Monday, March 10th to share the view that dollars cut from school budgets and local government to reduce the business property tax must be replaced with state dollars.

If you can come on Monday, link up with Mayors and other municipal and county officials to protect local property tax funding needed for vital local government and school services. 

While you are there, ask your legislators to delete Sections 10 and 11 from the preschool bill to break the link between helping preschoolers and a major expansion of K-12 private school vouchers which would further damage public education.

Where the Business Tax Reduction Now Stands 

The latest Senate proposal has reduced the fiscal impact to units of local government and schools from $54 million to $6.5 million.  This includes a $2 million reduction in school revenue and $2.4 million less for cities and towns.  These provisions would take effect in FY 2016. 

While Governor Pence has said he favors using state dollars to replace this revenue loss, there is no provision in the current proposal to do so.  While the magnitude of revenue loss has been reduced by the Senate, the latest reduction in business property tax would mean less revenue for local government and schools and a property tax shift to homeowners. 

“Replace Don’t Erase”

The “Replace Don’t Erase” Coalition is a coalition of 22 statewide local government and school associations, including the Indiana Coalition of Public Education.  The coalition has been led by the Indiana Association of Cities and Towns, representing 470 Hoosier cities and towns, which issued the invitation to come to the Statehouse on Monday.  In a statement issued on March 6th, the IACT said that the Senate’s latest proposal demonstrates “great movement” and then commented on the county by county option to eliminate the property tax on new equipment which originated in the House: 

“In terms of remaining areas of concern, IACT continues to be intensely opposed to the county by county option to eliminate the tax on new equipment being pushed in the House.  We continue to raise the red flag that this provision leaves too many cities, towns, counties, schools, libraries, townships and other local units with little to no voice in a decision to eliminate a relied upon source of revenue.  What’s being considered is NOT a local option and represents a serious step backwards for economic development and growth in our state.  The language in this proposal represents the beginning of a complete phase out of the tax as counties will be gradually pressured into elimination and old equipment ages out and is replaced.  It’s a slippery slope and is certainly the most detrimental piece of PPT legislation still alive.”

The Indiana Association of Cities and Towns invited their 470 members to the Statehouse in the following words: 

"Please come to Indianapolis on Monday, March 10 and make one-on-one contact with your legislators.  We are working to make one final push to inform lawmakers of our concerns regarding PPT reform.  While there has been significant evolution on this matter since the beginning of session, there is still much to say and saying it in person is how you can be most effective for your community."

IACT then added talking points, which along with the talking points provided in yesterday’s ICPE newsletter can guide your discussions with and messages to legislators.  The key points prepared by IACT that I would pass along are as follows: 

" All Hoosiers support the ideas of a great business climate and lower taxes.  At the same time any changes to the current system must be well thought out in cooperation between the State, local governments and business so that any change in tax burdens is fair and both permits the local governments that generally provide significant incentives to business to continue to be competitive and, at the same time, to provide the services, infrastructure and education that all the members of the community embrace and desire.  

 

Supporters maintain that the elimination of business personal property is necessary in order to attract business to Indiana, although the IEDC's website proclaims that Indiana already has the "Best Business Environment" and the "Top Tax Climate," ranking first in the Midwest in "business tax climate."  If Indiana already has the "best business environment" and the "top tax climate" why is this necessary? 

The top rankings for business climate are not true for Indiana's ranking in education, college graduation, high school graduation, nor is it true for the condition of Indiana's roads, bridges, water and wastewater facilities, its parks, or many of the other factors business and industry look at when deciding where to locate. 

Prior to 2010, under Indiana's "frozen levy" system of property taxation, a decision to provide tax abatement simply shifted the property tax liability to residential taxpayers and to other business taxpayers.  Since the enactment of the property tax caps, a decision to provide tax abatement shifts the property tax liability to other taxpayers until the caps are reached; at that point, the schools and local governments must forego tax revenues in order to provide the tax abatement.  A further loss of those tax revenues also means Hoosiers forgo quality of service, infrastructure and education. 

The decision to provide tax abatement is based upon the local government's determination that the benefit the new investment and new jobs would bring to residents, other taxpayers and to the state and local government outweighs the added costs, including increased property taxes and decreased quality of services, infrastructure and education, to our citizens.  It is not clear what, if any additional benefits from the current proposals will outweigh the additional costs imposed on homeowners, other taxpayers, schools and local governments. If there is less assessed value, tax rates increase, causing tax bills to all other taxpayers to be higher and circuit breaker tax credits to be higher as well, thus reducing revenues for local governments.

A decision to exempt all new business personal property from property taxes affects all taxing units and all non-business taxpayers.  What public process protects residential taxpayers, schools and others that do not benefit from, and may be harmed by, the exemption?"

 

It is amazing that public school revenues are again under attack.  Public school educators don’t need this headache.  If you can come to the Statehouse to join in one-on-one discussions with your legislators on Monday or even on Tuesday, please do so.  Please do what you can in this final week of the session.

 

Thanks for contacting your legislators and for your active support of public education!

 

Best wishes,

 

Vic Smith      vic790@aol.com

Vic’s Statehouse Notes #175 – March 5, 2014 

Dear Friends, 

Public school advocates need to send one more set of messages to their favorite legislators or to all legislators to delete the major expansion of K-12 vouchers in the preschool bill, House Bill 1004.  The message is this:

If legislators heed the plea of Governor Pence to resurrect the preschool pilot program in the Conference Committee, they should delete Sections 10 and 11 which expand K-12 vouchers by giving every preschooler who gets as much as $500 in preschool help a guaranteed private school K-12 voucher, even when family income goes up past the income guidelines during their 13 years of schooling. 

It is a way around Governor Daniels’ policy to “try public school first.”

Since the Conference Committee on HB 1004 could start any time now, please send your message to your legislators right away.  They need to hear from a large number of advocates saying:  no more expansion of K-12 vouchers. 

Conference Committee on House Bill 1004 – Preschool Scholarships

Representative Behning filed a dissent on the Senate version of HB 1004, and a conference committee has been appointed to reconcile the House version and the Senate version.  Conference committee members include: 

Rep. Behning (R)–House Conferee

Rep. VanDenburgh (D)- House Conferee

Sen. Pete Miller (R)– Senate Conferee

Sen. Rogers (D)– Senate Conferee

Rep. Thompson (R)– House Advisor

Rep. Sullivan (R)– House Advisor

Rep. Vernon Smith (D)– House Advisor

Sen. Kenley (R)– Senate Advisor

Sen. Broden (D)– Senate Advisor

Sen. Kruse (R)– Senate Advisor

Sen. Yoder (R)– Senate Advisor

Your messages to break the link between preschool scholarships and K-12 vouchers should be sent to these members of the Conference Committee along with other legislators you may want to contact. 

The House Version

The House passed their version with lightning speed on January 16th by a vote of 87-9, just one week after the initial committee hearing on January 9th.  The bill provided for a pilot program in five counties, giving scholarships of $6800 for full day and $3400 for half day programs and establishing provisions for assessments and accountability. 

I and many others have advocated for preschool funding for over a decade, but the Governor has crafted a bill that not only funds preschool scholarships but also guarantees private school K-12 scholarships for those preschoolers for the next 13 years.  The bill doesn’t need to link preschool and K-12 vouchers.  Deleting Sections 10 and 11 of the House version would break that link, keeping the bill focused on preschool and out of the controversy of our generation, whether to privatize our public schools by funding more and more K-12 private schools with public money.

The rationale often heard for linking a preschool voucher with a guaranteed lifetime K-12 voucher is to allow parents who choose a private preschool to keep their child in the same school for kindergarten, but this bill does not say that.  It has no language about continuity of schools.  It says that if children get at least $500 for preschool, they along with their siblings become eligible for a state-funded voucher from kindergarten through high school even if family income goes up beyond the voucher income rules. 

Thus, a student going to a preschool in a public school could go to a religious school using a K-12 voucher. 

That is far more than a continuity rule.  That is a pipeline to K-12 vouchers for every low-income preschooler. 

The House bill was never sent to the House Ways and Means Committee, which apparently aligns with Representative Behning’s statements that the program would not start this year but would start next year after money was allotted to it in next year’s budget.  This is a controversial move.  The General Assembly seldom chooses to pass programs which obligate the next General Assembly to provide funding.

Confusion remains about the funding issue.  Speaker Bosma said at the outset of the session that 1000 scholarships would be provided, after Governor Pence called in December for funding for 40,000 scholarships.  Now Representative Behning says that no scholarships would be funded this year, but the detailed CECI report on HB 1004 issued in February stated that $650,000 would be needed this year even before the new budget to pay for staff work to get the framework of the program in place and ready to begin when the General Assembly funds money for the scholarships. 

Clearly, this confusing funding sequence has raised many fiscal concerns as Senators reviewed the bill.

The Senate Version 

HB 1004 was amended in the Senate by a final vote of 44-5 to establish a prekindergarten and early learning study commission.  It prescribes ten topics for study this summer.  Senator Kenley said in committee that this study would clarify a framework for the program that could then be considered for funding alongside all the other programs that will seek funding in the next budget.

One of the ten topics says the commission will “study the appropriate state agency or entity to oversee and develop early learning accountability standards.”  The House version puts the administration of the preschool program in the hands of the child care section of the Family and Social Services Administration (FSSA).  Senator Kenley pointed out in committee that standards and assessment issues have always been handled by the Department of Education and the State Board of Education.  In testimony on HB 1004, I and several others called for the program to be administered by the Indiana Department of Education to coordinate the P-16 plan adopted by the Roundtable several years back.  This is a key point for review. 

On February 25th, the Governor announced plans to resurrect the preschool pilot in the House version by making an appearance at the Shepherd Community Center preschool which is affiliated with the Horizon Christian School, a voucher school making a D in the state’s grading system last year and teaching a creationist curriculum.  All this was well documented by Karen Francisco in an insightful Fort Wayne Journal Gazette column on Feb. 26th entitled “Feeding the creationist pipeline.”

The lingering question here is:  Does the Governor care more about saving the preschool provisions or saving the K-12 voucher expansion?  He would get a lot more support if he would decouple Sections 10 and 11 from the pilot program and thus break the link between much needed support for preschool and the next major expansion of K-12 vouchers. 

Let the members of the Conference Committee know that however the bill is crafted in the Conference Committee, Sections 10 and 11 expanding K-12 vouchers for preschool scholarship students should be deleted.  This is an important message that House and Senate leaders and indeed all legislators need to hear from all parts of the state.

Thanks for contacting your legislators and for your active support of public education! 

Best wishes,

Vic Smith      vic790@aol.com


Vic’s Statehouse Notes #174 – February 26, 2014

Dear Friends, 

Let’s view the controversy over cutting the business property tax through the lens of the K-12 school voucher/school choice controversy:

Governor Pence has clearly favored private schools over public schools in the competitive marketplace of schools which we now have in Indiana.  When public schools are kept in a perpetual state of financial uncertainty and budget cutting, they have a hard time competing with private schools for parent selections, especially when parents are often looking for small class sizes when they choose a school.  Low school funding increases in the 2013 state budget – only 2% this year and 1% next year - have led many public schools to raise class size. 

The Governor’s plan to eliminate $1 billion in business property taxes to help businesses has threatened schools, cities, towns, libraries and county governments with the latest self-inflicted crisis of financial instability.  For public schools, that translates into more difficulty in competing in the school choice marketplace.  Parents may not choose schools with well-known financial problems that are cutting services and even having trouble funding school buses.  This is no time to give public schools another financial headache through a new round of funding cuts resulting from changes in the business property tax.

Twenty-two statewide associations representing local governments, schools and libraries have joined the “Replace Don’t Erase” Coalition.  The Indiana Coalition for Public Education is one of the members.  ICPE lobbyist Joel Hand has been attending weekly meetings of the “RDE” coalition, which is simply asking that the two bills that would cut business property tax, House Bill 1001 and Senate Bill 1, include dollar for dollar replacement money for any cuts enacted in business property tax to guarantee public schools and local government budgets are not harmed by the effort to attract more businesses to Indiana. 

Stable funding for public schools is vital for the sake of over one million public school students in Indiana.

House Bill 1001

 

The House response to the Governor’s call to eliminate the entire business property tax was a locally based response.  HB 1001 started out allowing each county to decide whether to zero out property tax on new business equipment.  That move would guarantee that counties would not lose tax money currently coming in, but instead would stop the growth in new property taxes.  Opponents say it would introduce a new era of cut-throat competition among counties, pressuring some counties to cut the tax when they really need the revenue growth. 

 

After changes in the Senate, the latest streamlined version passed yesterday (Feb. 25th) by the Senate Tax and Fiscal Policy Committee would still cut a projected $2.0 million from public school revenue with no provision for replacement dollars. 

Senate Bill 1

The Senate response to the Governor’s call was quite different.  Senators introduced a bill to eliminate all business property tax for all small businesses, those with up to $25,000 in assessed value.  This had a much smaller price tag than the Governor’s original plan costing $1 billion.  It also cut red tape for small businesses.  The Governor has said that he would support replacing the local dollars lost with state tax dollars, although Senators have not sounded like they want to back up his idea with state dollars in a non-budgetary year. 

It’s All About Competition

Once again, public schools stand to lose big if the equipment property tax is dropped.  Kathy Friend, Chief Financial Officer for the Fort Wayne Community Schools, has said that under the Governor’s original plan the Fort Wayne schools would take a bigger financial hit from losing this property tax money than they did when property tax caps were put into place four years ago. 

If Governor Pence can keep public schools weak and reeling financially, the private and parochial schools can gain the upper hand in the live or die competition that is now a constant for schools.  Public schools must have the financial support they need to remain the stable community force that they have been for decades.

This issue is active in both the House and the Senate.  Let all of your legislators know that schools and local governments don’t need a financial crisis over the business property tax.  Too many school districts, such as Decatur Township and Muncie, are already facing huge problems in funding school bus transportation.  Any change in the equipment tax should be accompanied by a direct replacement of the lost local property tax dollars by state dollars. 

The unrelenting erosion of financial stability in Indiana’s public schools must end.  “Replace Don’t Erase!”

Thanks for contacting your legislators and for your active support of public education! 

Best wishes,

Vic Smith      vic790@aol.com