Right out of the box as the General Assembly begins, Senator Kruse has scheduled a hearing on a bill to expand the voucher program for Wednesday, January 9 at 1:30pm in Statehouse Room 233.
Senate Bill 184 sponsored by Senator Yoder will be one of four bills heard in the Senate Education Committee’s first meeting. Based on past practice, the vote will be taken at the subsequent meeting next week, but this is the meeting when testimony from the public will be taken.
This proposed bill would expand vouchers to allow siblings of current voucher recipients to receive a voucher without qualifying for eligibility by first attending a public school, as the law requires now. The synopsis as it appears on Senate Bill 184 is as follows:
Synopsis: Choice scholarship eligibility. Provides that a sibling of a student who is receiving a choice scholarship is eligible to receive a choice scholarship without first attending two semesters in a public school or receiving a scholarship from a scholarship granting organization.This short bill if enacted would mark a major change. Until now, all voucher students have had to transfer from a public school to a voucher school. Based on that move, the voucher bill was sold to legislators under the rationale that vouchers would save money when students transfer from the public school to the less expensive private school. With this bill, for the first time, students could get a voucher without transferring from a public school. Each voucher then would become a new fiscal expense for the state, ending the rationale that vouchers will save money. This bill therefore has a fiscal impact and would require new additional state funding.
The bill is not long. This is the entire text of the bill, with the new language in bold:
1 SECTION 1. IC 20-51-1-4.5, AS ADDED BY P.L.92-2011,
2 SECTION 5, IS AMENDED TO READ AS FOLLOWS [EFFECTIVE
3 JULY 1, 2013]: Sec. 4.5. "Eligible individual" refers to an individual
5 (1) has legal settlement in Indiana;
6 (2) is at least five (5) years of age and less than twenty-two (22)
7 years of age on the date in the school year specified in
8 IC 20-33-2-7;
9 (3) either has been, or is currently, or, in the case of an
10 individual described in subdivision (5)(C), will be enrolled in
11 an accredited school;
12 (4) is a member of a household with an annual income of not
13 more than one hundred fifty percent (150%) of the amount
14 required for the individual to qualify for the federal free or
15 reduced price lunch program; and
16 (5) either: falls into one (1) of the following categories:
17 (A) Was enrolled in grade 1 through 12 in a school corporation
1 that did not charge the individual transfer tuition for at least
2 two (2) semesters immediately preceding the first semester for
3 which the individual receives a choice scholarship under
4 IC 20-51-4. or
5 (B) Received a scholarship from a scholarship granting
6 organization under IC 20-51-3 or a choice scholarship under
7 IC 20-51-4 in a preceding school year, including a school year
8 that does not immediately precede a school year in which the
9 individual receives a scholarship from a scholarship granting
10 organization under IC 20-51-3 or a choice scholarship under
11 IC 20-51-4.
12 (C) Is the sibling of an eligible individual who is receiving
13 a choice scholarship under IC 20-51-4.
How much new additional state money would it cost? The non-partisan Legislative Services Agency writes a projection of the fiscal cost of each bill. On this bill, LSA projected that the financial support to all schools could be reduced proportionately:
“The bill could reduce the school formula revenue for local schools. Currently, the Choice Scholarship grants are paid from the savings in tuition support since the students attended public schools the year before … . The addition of students into the program who are not included in the tuition support projections could cause the total distribution for the school formula, Choice Scholarship awards, and the Mitch Daniels Early Graduation Scholarships to exceed the tuition support appropriation. If distributions exceed the appropriation, then distributions to all schools would be proportionately reduced.”
Another way to figure the cost would be take the current average cost per voucher ($3932 according to LSA) and then multiply by an estimate of the number of siblings who would get a voucher. If only one out of five of the current voucher students (20%) would have a sibling eligible for a voucher, the cost to the state would be $7.1 million dollars. That dollar figure comes from multiplying the average voucher $3932 by 1826 students, just one fifth of the 9130 who now get a voucher.
What could $7.1 million be used for other than tuition support for private and religious schools? Here are two examples: In the state budget in 2011, professional development funding was zeroed out, previously funded at $5.5 million per year. Restoring $7.1 million for professional development would help every student in the state by helping all teachers. Also state funding for ESL students, called the Non-English Speaking Fund, was cut in the last budget to $5 million. Another $7.1 million would certainly help pay the substantial local school general fund costs for educating ESL students.
The big picture here is that the school funding formula was cut by $300 million in 2009 during the Great Recession and that money was never restored to public school budgets, even when Indiana declared a huge surplus. Given this plight of public school funding, why is giving new state money for the first time to private school tuition a top priority?
Public school advocates should rise up in righteous indignation at the thought of giving millions of new state dollars to private schools when public schools have not been made whole after their funds were slashed during the Great Recession.
What Can You Do?
First, contact your State Senator to express your opposition to SB 184 expanding private school vouchers when public school funding was not restored after the cuts during the Great Recession.
Second, contact other Senators who you might know or who are on the Education and Career Development Committee. Here are the committee members as listed on the General Assembly website:
Chair: Senator Kruse
Members: Yoder R.M., Banks, Buck, Kenley, Pete Miller, Leising, Schneider, Rogers R.M.M., Broden, Mrvan, Taylor
Third, if you are available Wednesday, come to the meeting to testify. Anyone who signs in as the meeting begins at 1:30 will be called on to speak against the bill when SB 184 gets its turn. No one needs to speak at length, but having several from various places in the state who are willing to drive in to testify in support of public schools and in opposition to vouchers would be extremely helpful. The weather is supposed to be warmer and dry on Wednesday, so come if you can and express your outrage that private school tuition support is being given top priority as the session begins when public schools have still not been made whole after the recession.
Some have claimed that this session will not be as contentious as the 2011 and 2012 sessions. Nothing is more contentious for those who support public education then starting out with an expansion of vouchers that for the first time will not be a money saver but will cost taxpayer dollars.
Please do whatever you can do on this by Wednesday afternoon. We now know that the grassroots support for public education is strong. May the grassroots get to work to let Senators know how you feel about spending new money to expand vouchers.
ICPE will be working to promote public education in the Statehouse as efforts are made this week to expand vouchers. We are well represented by our lobbyist Joel Hand, but to keep him in place we need all members from last year to renew and we need new members who support public education.
Go to www.icpe2011.com for membership and renewal information.
Some readers have asked about my background in Indiana public schools. Thanks for asking! Here is a brief bio:
I am a lifelong Hoosier and began teaching in 1969. I served as a social studies teacher, curriculum developer, state research and evaluation consultant, state social studies consultant, district social studies supervisor, assistant principal, principal, educational association staff member, and adjunct university professor. I worked for Garrett-Keyser-Butler Schools, the Indiana University Social Studies Development Center, the Indiana Department of Education, the Indianapolis Public Schools, IUPUI, and the Indiana Urban Schools Association, from which I retired as Associate Director in 2009. I hold three degrees: B.A. in Ed., Ball State University, 1969; M.S. in Ed., Indiana University, 1972; and Ed.D., Indiana University, 1977, along with a Teacher’s Life License and a Superintendent’s License, 1998.