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!
Vic Smith firstname.lastname@example.org
“Vic’s Statehouse Notes” and ICPE received one of three Excellence in Media Awards presented by Delta Kappa Gamma Society International, an organization of over 85,000 women educators in seventeen countries. The award was presented on July 30, 2014 during the Delta Kappa Gamma International Convention held in Indianapolis. Thank you Delta Kappa Gamma!
ICPE has worked since 2011 to promote public education in the Statehouse and oppose the privatization of schools. We need your membership to help support the ICPE lobbying efforts. Joel Hand will again be our ICPE lobbyist in the Statehouse. Many have renewed their memberships already, 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 now.
We must raise additional funds for the 2015 session, which begins on January 6th. 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. In 2013 I was honored to receive a Distinguished Alumni Award from the IU School of Education, and in 2014 I was honored to be named to the Teacher Education Hall of Fame by the Association for Teacher Education – Indiana.