The old saying “Never let a crisis go to waste” came to mind as I watched Rep. Behning shepherd the preschool scholarship bill HB 1004 through the House this past week. Indiana has ignored funding vital preschool programs to the point that many consider our situation to be a crisis. Rep. Behning’s response is to fund preschool scholarships which also simultaneously make scholarship students eligible for K-12 vouchers for private school tuition. His bill is the only vehicle to fund preschool, and he is using it to expand K-12 vouchers.
The bill could easily have been written to fund preschool without a link to K-12 vouchers, but his bill supports Rep. Behning’s avowed goal to continually expand K-12 vouchers for students who have never enrolled in a public school. The bill passed the House with lighting speed, passing the committee 10-3 on January 9th, second reading on January 13th, and the final vote 87-9 on January 16th, just one week after the committee hearing.
Early sections of HB1004 set up preschool scholarships of $6800 for a full day program or $3400 for a half day program for families making 185% of poverty or less, funding levels that some K-12 districts would envy. The LSA fiscal note said that the bill might fund 4600 vouchers in five pilot counties at a cost of $24 million. The Governor in his speech in Corydon said we should fund 40,000 vouchers. Speaker Bosma said that 1000 vouchers would be funded. Rep. Behning in the committee introduction said that the bill would set up the program this year and funding would be addressed in next year’s budget.
If you are not confused by this description of the size and cost of this program, you should be. The fiscal cost has clearly been blurred by the sponsors.
Then in Section 10, the bill rewrites the infamous voucher bill passed in 2011 to add the following to the list of individuals who meet conditions for a K-12 voucher: “The individual or a sibling of the individual received a scholarship of at least $500 for an early education scholarship under IC12-17.2-7 before enrolling in school.”
I testified against this portion of the bill, asking the committee to strike Section 10. The testimony on behalf of ICPE is attached.
Several other groups in testimony made the same appeal. The Legislative Services Agency, using conservative estimates, wrote that there would be an ongoing cost of $1.6 million to the state for K-12 vouchers for preschool students who would go on to kindergarten at a private school with a voucher paid for by Indiana taxpayers as a result of this bill.
In committee discussion at the January 9th hearing, Rep. Vandenburgh directly asked Rep. Behning to remove Section 10 from the bill because of the opposition she and other Democrats had to expanding K-12 vouchers. She said that removing Section 10 might ease the expected opposition to this bill in the Senate, where it died last year. Rep. Behning replied that he knew Senators who would vote against the bill if it did not include the guarantee of a K-12 voucher as written in the bill, and he would not agree to change Section 10.
Think about that one: He is saying that he knows Senators who would not support preschool funding except for the fact that the bill would expand K-12 vouchers. That leaves the question: Is this bill more about preschool or more about expanding K-12 vouchers?
Section 10 was challenged again during second reading amendments on January 13th. Rep. Delaney filed Amendment 8 which simply deleted Section 10, breaking the link between helping preschool students and expanding K-12 vouchers.
For public education advocates, it was the most telling vote of the new session. The 29 yes votes were all Democrats plus Republican Rep. Niemeyer from Lake and Porter County. The 62 no votes were all Republicans. The bill remained an expansion of K-12 vouchers as well as help for preschoolers.
The Final Vote
Rep. Behning called HB 1004 for its third reading vote on Thursday, January 16th. Rep. Pelath said the bill is “deserving of criticism” for “doubling down on voucher methodology” but his side of the aisle has had preschool in their agenda for many years, and he would vote yes. Rep. Vernon Smith said a “very good concept for academics has been marred by a quest” for more K-12 vouchers. He would support the bill with “a lot of red flags.” Rep. Vandenburgh, Rep. Candelaria Reardon, Rep. Pryor and Rep. Delaney all came to the podium with similar sentiments of support for the bill but opposition to Section 10. Rep. Delaney said that in setting up a pipeline to private school vouchers through preschools, public schools “can’t compete here” because they are stretched to the limits of their funding now.
The final vote was 87-9, with eight of the no votes coming from Republicans who opposed the precedent of preschool funding: Representatives Culver, Harman, Ober, Rhoads, Thompson, Turner, Washburne and Wesco. One Democrat, Rep. Kersey, who strongly opposes private school vouchers, voted against the bill based on its link to K-12 vouchers.
The Second Time Around
The bill now goes on to the Senate for the second time. Last year, it died there based on fiscal concerns about the eventual costs for a statewide program.
The K-12 voucher program has changed remarkably between the time HB 1004 passed the House in 2013 and its passage here in 2014. As a result of the voucher expansion passed in April 2013, vouchers for private school tuition are available in a number of ways to incoming kindergarteners who can now get state tax dollars to attend private schools without ever giving the public schools a try. Beginning kindergarteners are now eligible for vouchers if they---
- are siblings of previous voucher students.
- are special education students. Even if parents want special education services from the public school district, they can attend private schools using a taxpayer voucher for family incomes as much as $84,000.
- reside in an attendance area for a school that received an F under Indiana’s flawed but still used A-F system.
What Can Public Education Advocates Do?
It is time to contact Senators about the preschool bill HB 1004 that will be coming their way in a few weeks. Ask them to strike Section 10 from the bill to help preschoolers without using the bill to expand K-12 vouchers.
Remind them of the controversial expansion of vouchers last year, a debate when more than one Senator said they would not support additional expansions after the 2013 expansions. Remember that 23 Senators voted against the major voucher expansion of 2013, just three short of a majority. Let all Senators know how you feel about Section 10, but of course initially the Senators on the Education and Career Development Committee will hear the bill in February.
HB 1004 is one of the key bills of the session. It should not be used to once again expand K-12 vouchers.
Thank you for your advocacy for public education!
ICPE has worked since 2011 to promote public education in the Statehouse and oppose the privatization of schools. The 2014 session of the General Assembly has begun. Joel Hand will again serve as ICPE lobbyist for the session. We need your membership to help support his work. Many have renewed their memberships this fall, and we thank you! If you have not done so since July 1, the start of our new membership year, we urge you to renew by going to our website.
As the session begins, ICPE has about half of what we will need to fund our lobbying efforts, a vast improvement over previous sessions in 2011, 2012 and 2013 when we started from zero each session. With your membership support, we have raised the money each session, and we must do so again. We need additional members and additional donations. We need your help and the help of your colleagues who support public education! Please pass the word!
Go to www.icpe2011.com for membership and renewal information and for full information on ICPE efforts on behalf of public education. Thanks!
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.