Indiana Coalition for
Public Education
Your Subtitle text

What's happening at the Statehouse

Vic’s Statehouse Notes #313 – February 21, 2018

Dear Friends,

The “Celebration of Public Education” Monday in the Statehouse was a tremendous event!  Thanks to all who came and thanks to all who were there in spirit!

As our outstanding rally speakers said, public education needs our renewed support and protection.

This is true this week in House Bill 1315, which would set troubling precedents to deconstruct the local control of public education if it is not amended by the Senate Appropriations Committee.

Here are the four concerns about HB 1315 that I testified on in the Senate Appropriations Committee last Thursday, Feb. 15:

Concern #1:  For the first time, a public school district could be governed by school board members who do not live in the school district.

Concern #2:  For the first time, a public school district could ignore state law mandates to display the flag and to study the US Constitution and citizenship.  Even private voucher schools are not allowed to ignore the laws on citizenship mandates!

Concern #3:  For the first time, a public school district in financial distress could lose its public school board in favor of an “advisory committee”.

Concern #4:  For the first time, any public school district could be put on a watch list for financial mismanagement which could potentially become public before detailed reviews have guaranteed the accuracy of the financial assessment.  The confidentiality of preliminary data must be guaranteed.

Chairman Mishler listened closely to lengthy testimony and said the testimony would guide an amendment he would bring to the bill at a later meeting.  HB 1315 has not been included on the agenda for the next meeting on February 22nd so you have time to make your concerns known this week.

The bill needs to be amended.  We need your participation.

Please review the details about each concern below and then contact members of the Senate Appropriations Committee listed here as soon as possible:

Republicans:  Senators Mishler (chair), Brown, Bassler, Boots, Bray, Charbonneau, Crider, Eckerty and Holdman

Democrats:  Senators Tallian, Breaux, Niezgodski and Taylor

It would also help if you send a strong message to amend this bill to Senator Long, Senate President Pro Tem, and to your own Senator.

House Bill 1315 – School Corporation Financial Management

House Bill 1315, sponsored by Representative Tim Brown, chair of the House Ways and Means Committee, proposes to restrict the voice of the public in the public schools in Muncie and Gary because district leaders over several years overspent their budget and fell into debt.

It also proposes to set up an assessment of the financial health of all public school districts, setting up a dashboard of financial indicators for all school corporations.

Concern #1:  For the first time, a public school district could be governed by school board members who do not live in the school district.

HB 1315 as it passed the House on a party line vote says the Muncie city council and the Muncie mayor can each nominate a school board member “who must reside within the boundaries of the Muncie school corporation district.”

The other five members will be nominated by the president of Ball State and are not required to be residents of the Muncie school corporation.  Under this plan, school board members would be setting property tax levies when they don’t even live in the community.  This would surely be the basis for a lawsuit regarding representation and cost the district significant money for legal defense which has not been budgeted.

This is unprecedented among current school boards and would be a major step in the deconstruction of local public schools in Indiana which began in 2011.

Ask Senators to return the public to the Muncie public schools by requiring that all seven members “reside within the boundaries of the Muncie school corporation district.”

Concern #2:  For the first time, a public school district could ignore state law mandates to display the flag and to study the US Constitution and citizenship. Even private voucher schools are not allowed to ignore the laws on citizenship mandates!

HB 1315 turns Muncie’s fiscal crisis into a grand academic experiment “to provide all administrative and academic flexibility to implement innovative strategies”, in the words of the bill.  It makes Muncie schools subject to only 17 laws which they must follow instead of the entire body of school law which every other school district must observe.

This would make the entire Muncie Community School district akin to an experimental charter school.

This flexibility goes too far.  The bill actually removes the legal obligations in 20-30-5 for schools to display the flag, say the pledge of allegiance, study the U.S. Constitution, and provide non-partisan citizenship instruction at the time of each general election.  No district should be waived from teaching students about citizenship in our democracy!

Ask Senators to have the Muncie Community Schools follow the same Indiana school laws that the General Assembly has told all other school districts to follow.

Concern #3:  For the first time, a public school district in debt and financial distress could lose its public school board in favor of an “advisory committee”.

The Gary Public Schools are already under control of an emergency manager who has full control of all district decisions under legislation passed last year in 2017.  The powers of the school board have been suspended until the emergency manager recommends to the Distressed Unit Appeal Board (DUAB) that the financial crisis has been repaired and that a return to local control is appropriate.  This process could require several years.

Given that it already has no power, it is surprising that HB 1315 ends the institution of the school board in favor of a new entity called an “advisory committee” which “may not hold a meeting more than once every three (3) months.”

The institution of the school board has served Indiana well for over one hundred years.  When financial mismanagement requires that an emergency manager take over to make budgetary corrections, the citizens of Indiana can understand and would assume that after corrective actions have been taken and financial stability has been restored, power to run the public schools would be returned to the local school board under new leadership.

To say residents should permanently lose their voice on a school board because of past financial mistakes is to say those residents have lost their right to democracy. 

Self-rule through the participation of residents in a school board must not be curtailed forever.

Opponents of public education have long said that school boards should be dissolved and all schools should become charter schools.

Is this bill the camel’s nose under the tent for the proposition that we don’t need school boards which represent the community? Is this the first step to losing control of our public schools by community school boards?

Ask Senators to maintain the institution of the school board for all public school districts so that when financial distress and debt problems have been resolved by an emergency manager, local control can be returned to the local community through a school board, an institution that has stood the test of time. 

Concern #4:  For the first time, any public school district could be put on a watch list for financial mismanagement which could potentially be made public before detailed reviews have guaranteed the accuracy of the financial assessment.  The confidentiality of preliminary data must be guaranteed.

Our generational question in Indiana is “Can the public have confidence in our public schools?  Any appearance on a “watch list” for financial instability can deeply shake public confidence in any school district, so any such designation must be treated with extreme caution and vetted for absolute accuracy. 

Some have called this plan a “shame list” and point out the damage that could be done to public confidence if premature and inaccurate data is made public.

Ask Senators to amend the fiscal indicators section of HB 1315 to permit the Distressed Unit Appeal Board (DUAB) to consider “watch lists” in confidential executive sessions so that no district will prematurely get a black eye in the public’s mind until accuracy has been certified.

Take Action This Week

Send the Senators listed above one or all of these messages to protect our public schools:

Don’t let non-residents run public school districts.

Don’t let any public school district ignore the mandated curriculum for good citizenship.

Don’t eliminate the school board but rather return the voice of the community to the school board after corrective actions have been completed by an emergency manager.

Don’t permit preliminary discussions of watch lists in public meetings when they haven’t been vetted and certified. 

If you are concerned with any of these four points, it is important that you communicate your concerns to members of the Senate Appropriations Committee listed above as soon as possible. Go to the Indiana General Assembly website for easy connections to the email of Senators on the committee.

Thank you for actively supporting public education in Indiana!

Best wishes,

Vic Smith      vic790@aol.com





Vic’s Statehouse Notes #308 – December 31, 2017

Dear Friends,

 It was confirmed in a survey in my mailbox.

 A direct attack on public education is coming in the short session starting January 3rd.  Public education parents and advocates need to be ready to fend off a new form of privatization.

 This attack would put in place Milton Friedman’s blueprint to end public education by giving public money directly to parents on a debit card.  My previous notes (#307, Dec. 18, 2017) detailed this plan called “Education Savings Accounts”.

 Confirmation that this new attack on public education will be a high priority in the General Assembly came in my mailbox.

 When I read the annual survey from my State Senator, Senator Ruckelshaus, one of only six questions asked whether I would support or oppose giving $6000 on a debit card to unsupervised home schools for special education students.   Actually, this is my description of the Educational Savings Account proposal.   Here is how the survey question read:

 “Do you support or oppose giving parents of children with special needs the option to use state educational funding for services such as private-school tuition, tutoring or online courses?”

 Questions don’t get on the legislative survey unless the issue has support.

 This deceptive language tries to normalize a radical idea to give taxpayer tuition money to home schools for the very first time. It leaves out a lot of details: 

It does not clearly say that parents of disabled children can already get a voucher for private-school tuition, so that would be nothing new.

It does not clearly say parents of disabled children will be given $6000 or more in taxpayer money on a debit card to be home schooled without supervision in exchange for giving up their right to a “free appropriate public education” and their right to an “individual education plan (IEP)” approved by the parent which has been guaranteed by federal law since the 1970’s.

It does not clearly say parents of disabled children could leave out teaching about our democracy if they want to.  With this proposal, democracy is in peril.

The Battle to Come

 Wealthy advocates for private school vouchers such as Fred Klipsch have contributed heavily to the campaign funds of Indiana legislators, so legislators will take it seriously when private school advocates ask for a radical plan like Education Savings Accounts.  Plans like this have been passed in Florida and five other states with the support of the Jeb Bush Foundation.

 This will be a major battle which needs your participation.

 What Can You Do?

 Let your legislator know how much you oppose diverting $6000 to $15,000 per student from our public schools to give to unsupervised and unaudited parents.

  • Share this alert with parents of special education students and ask them to get involved to stop this attack on special education programs in our public schools.  This proposal will damage stable, high performing special education programs as budgets drop when money is diverted to unsupervised parents.
  • Speak against this radical plan at the hearing in the Senate Education Committee.  The initial hearing on Senator Raatz’s bill to give debit cards to parents instead of sending money to their school will come at a 1:30pm Senate Education Committee meeting on a Wednesday afternoon, either Jan. 10, 17, 24 or 31.  Please get ready, because no doubt the proponents are ready.  Last year two speakers were flown in to the hearing from out of state by the Jeb Bush Foundation to tout the proposal.

Why Would “Education Savings Accounts” Undermine Public Education in Indiana?

Public education advocates should be ready to oppose this “foot in the door” attack to allow public school tuition money to be diverted directly to parents.  Here is a brief summary of the problems of “ESA’s” which I described in depth in my last “Notes” dated December 18th:

 

Based on bills filed in both the House and the Senate in 2016 and 2017, ESA’s would put in place Milton Friedman’s blueprint to end public education by giving public money directly to parents on a debit card.  Parents of special education students would be eligible for $6,500 to $15,000 currently given to the school to pay for services for various levels of disability.  Senator Raatz’s bill which was given a hearing in February 2017 applied to special education and Section 504 health impaired students.

To get the money, parents merely have to sign an agreement to educate their child in “reading, grammar, mathematics, social studies and science.”  That’s all! It’s an unregulated and narrow education. No art, no music, no physical education, no health, no vocational subjects. This would allow parents to lower standards for students while standards for public school students are being raised to ever higher levels for testing and for graduation.  That is not right.

The plan includes no obligation for annual testing or evaluation or public accountability of student achievement.  This is just wrong.

 ESA’s would remove all income limits in order to give public money to high income parents of special education and Section 504 students. Currently, the State gives vouchers to disabled students when families earn less than $89,900 for a family of four.  This vast expansion led LSA to cite Senator Raatz’s bill filed in 2017 to cost “between $144 million and $206 million.”

 

 ESA’s would give the entire amount of public money for special education students directly to parents.  This is a “foot in the door” to the real goal to give the entire amount of public money to parents of all students on a debit card.  These bills to privatize schooling would immediately divert money away from our public school students and over time would undermine funding for all students in both public schools and private voucher schools.  This plan undermines the very concept of schools.

 ESA’s would allow parents to home school their child with public money, paying for an approved provider, for a tutor and for textbooks.  Public school parents would surely like to have the state pay for their textbooks as well, but public school parents must pay their own textbook rental.

The plan has no defined penalties for parents who commit fraud.  Parents with past records of crime or neglect or abuse or welfare fraud or addiction are not excluded.

In a year when radical federal policies have been normalized, the “Education Savings Account” plan tries to normalize a radical plan to bypass schools and give taxpayer money directly to parents without accountability checks or audits.  This plan should not be normalized but should be seen as the radical concept that it is.

Our Indiana Constitution calls for the General Assembly to provide, “by law, a general and uniform system of Common Schools”.  This proposal would hurt our Common Schools.

Our Indiana Constitution calls for educational improvements “by all suitable means”.  This proposal is not suitable because it would harm our Common schools and the students that rely on them for services.

Republican leaders in the General Assembly typically have avoided allowing radical proposals to gain traction in an election year because they would make large numbers of public education parents and leaders angry.  This proposal would make public education parents angry.  You can help the leadership understand this fact so that they decide to back off in this short session.

I urge you to participate in turning back this attack on our public schools of Indiana.

Thank you for actively supporting public education in Indiana!

Best wishes,

Vic Smith      vic790@aol.com

Vic’s Statehouse Notes #307 – December 18, 2017

  Dear Friends,

The short session of the General Assembly beginning January 3rd will bring another frontal attack on public education to privatize education in a new way.

 This attack will be in addition to debates about whether to fund controversial unfunded mandates for new graduation requirements passed by the State Board of Education on December 6th.

Demoralized public school educators don’t need another attack on public education.  They came out in force to oppose the graduation requirements because adequate funding and specifics were not clear.  The pleas of over 60 educators and parents who spoke against the plan were ignored by the State Board in a 7-4 vote.

  

Now a new attack is coming from a different direction.

Senator Raatz has again prepared a bill to undermine public school programs for special education students by creating “Education Savings Accounts”, a terrible idea promoted heavily by well funded groups that support privatizing education.  The idea is detailed below.

The concept of “Educational Savings Accounts” for special education students is so detrimental to high educational standards and to maintaining accountability with public tax money that it should be rejected outright as soon as possible.  It undermines the very concept of schooling.

After noting the huge problems of “Education Savings Accounts” listed below, I urge you to do three things:

Contact your own legislators in the House and Senate to tell them you deeply oppose “Education Savings Accounts”.  Urge them to say absolutely no to ESA’s in their caucus meetings.  The strongest voices for this effort would be parents of special education students who don’t want to see the services and funding for their children’s school programs eroded by this plan.  Tell legislators that giving serious attention to radical ideas that undercut public education contributes to the demoralization of dedicated public schools educators, a direct cause of early retirements, reduced recruitment of young teachers and teacher shortages.

Contact Senator Kruse, chair of the Senate Education Committee, and urge him to stop the bill on “Education Savings Accounts” by not giving it a hearing.  In February 2017 he allowed a hearing on Senator Raatz’s Senate Bill 534, but he announced before the hearing began that he would not allow a vote on the bill after the hearing.  That move to stop the bill in the 2017 session was greatly appreciated.  Ask Senator Kruse to protect the concept of public education in 2018 by stopping Senator Raatz’s bill on “Education Savings Accounts” again.

Contact Senator Raatz of Richmond to ask him to give up the idea of “Education Savings Accounts” due to their toxic impact undermining the funding for special education programs in public schools across Indiana that are doing outstanding work and clearly need stable funding.

Why would Education Savings Accounts threaten the existence of public education?  Why are Educational Savings Accounts so detrimental to education standards in Indiana and to accountability? 

Changes may be made in new bills filed in the 2018 session. This list of serious concerns is based directly on “Education Savings Account” bills filed in both 2016 and 2017.

Based on bills filed in both the House and the Senate in 2016 and 2017, ESA’s would put in place Milton Friedman’s blueprint to end public education by giving public money directly to parents on a debit card.  All parents would get a debit card of approximately $6000 which currently goes to schools.  Parents of special education students would be eligible to get an additional $500 to $9000 currently given to the school to pay for special education services for various levels of disability.  Senator Raatz’s bill which was given a hearing in February 2017 only applied to special education and Section 504 health impaired students.  Other bills have been filed in the House in 2016 and 2017 which would apply to all students.

To get the money, parents merely have to sign an agreement to educate their child in “reading, grammar, mathematics, social studies and science.”  That’s all! It’s an unregulated and narrow education. No art, no music, no physical education, no health, no vocational subjects. This would absolutely lower standards for students while standards for public school students are being raised to higher and higher levels for testing and for graduation.

The plan includes no obligation for annual testing or evaluation or public accountability of student achievement.  This is just wrong and in total contrast to testing and accountability laws for Indiana schools.

ESA’s would give public money to high income parents of special education and Section 504 students. For these students, all income limits would be removed.  Under current law, the State gives vouchers to disabled students when families earn less than $89,900 for a family of four.  This vast expansion led LSA to cite Senator Raatz’s bill filed in 2017 to cost “between $144 million and $206 million.”  Unacceptable!

ESA’s would give the entire amount of public money for special education students directly to parents, paving the way for the real goal to give the entire amount of public money to parents of all students on a debit card.  These bills to privatize schooling would immediately divert money away from our public school students and over time would undermine funding for all students in both public schools and private voucher schools.  This bill thus undermines the very concept of schools.

ESA’s would allow parents to home school their child with public money, paying for an approved provider, for a tutor and for textbooks.  Public school parents would surely like to have the state pay for their textbooks as well, but public school parents must pay their own textbook rental.

The plan would give public money to parents with extremely weak provisions for fraud protection and no defined penalties for fraud.  Parents with past records of crime or neglect or abuse or welfare fraud are not excluded.

While public schools are pushed to ever higher standards, individual families would be allowed to adopt lower standards.  That is not right.

If this concept is not decisively rejected, it will confirm the theory that all of the standards and testing regulations heaped upon our public schools have just been techniques to make privatized vouchers and Education Savings Accounts look attractive to individual parents, giving them an incentive to leave the public schools or even the voucher schools to run home schools or independent schools with taxpayer money.

This bill’s concept is based on Milton Friedman’s plan to end community public schools.  It should be totally and promptly rejected by the General Assembly.  If this concept is not decisively rejected, the future of public education in Indiana is bleak.  Our hard working but demoralized teachers and administrators in Indiana would take this bill as a signal that General Assembly is ready to put public education into a death spiral, and some would make plans to leave for other states or other vocations, making our teacher shortage even worse.

This concept is too radical and potentially damaging for any further action.  Legislators should absolutely reject “Education Savings Accounts.”

Let your legislators, along with Senators Kruse and Raatz as noted above, know that you support strong and well funded public education and that you oppose “Education Savings Accounts” that would lower educational standards and undermine funding for our public schools.  This attack must be resisted.

Thank you for actively supporting public education in Indiana!

Best wishes,

Vic Smith      vic790@aol.com