Vic’s Statehouse Notes #175 – March 5, 2014
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 firstname.lastname@example.org
Vic’s Statehouse Notes #174 – February 26, 2014
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!
Vic Smith email@example.com