The push by the current leadership of the Indiana General Assembly to expand private school vouchers marches on.
Yesterday (Feb. 25) in the House Education Committee, Senate Bill 334 to expand vouchers by allowing spring semester transfers to voucher schools passed by a vote of 8-4. An amendment to focus the bill on the sponsor’s stated purpose to help drop outs failed on a 4-8 vote.
On the House floor debate on Senate Bill 93, a second reading amendment to delete the recommendation for a summer study on special education debit card savings account vouchers never materialized. A summer study of how special education funding can be given directly to parents via debit cards with no public oversight remains in the bill along with a long list of various unrelated provisions.
The authority of leadership makes sure that voucher bills will pass.
The clear theme of this session is that even in an election year the leadership of the General Assembly will continue to push Indiana to more and more private school vouchers any way they can.
A Case in Point: What Took So Long to Pass Senate Bill 334 Out of Committee?
Normally, when Chairman Behning hears a bill in the House Education Committee, he holds a vote on the day of the hearing. He held the hearing on SB 334 on Tuesday, Feb. 16th. The bill, however, didn’t pass the committee until the fourth meeting it was on the agenda on Feb. 25th. What took so long?
Representative Behning clearly supported SB 334 from the start. He has been the leading proponent of voucher expansion in the General Assembly, but when he held the SB 334 hearing on Feb. 16th, he no doubt realized he had a problem.
The hearing unexpectedly attracted more opponents than supporters by a ten to six margin. Opponents who testified represented both individuals from the community and a wide variety of school organizations. The main point of the opponents was that the bill’s stated rationale was to help The Crossing get help in the second semester for drop outs that need help. Calls to focus the bill on that population led to comments vocalized by committee members from both parties showing interest in narrowing the bill to drop out recovery.
Chairman Behning, father of the voucher program, no doubt wanted to maintain a broad voucher expansion and not limit the bill to helping drop outs. Senator Yoder, after all, the sponsor of SB 334, has been his key partner in the Senate in pushing the expansion of private school vouchers.
He had to do something to turn around the momentum of the bill and the support obviously building to narrow the focus to helping drop outs.
He did not take a vote after the Feb. 16th hearing, saying it would be put on the agenda for the next meeting on Feb. 18th. Feb. 18th came, and he announced it would be postponed until the Feb. 23rd meeting.
No doubt conversations with Republican members of the committee were starting that week to keep them in line behind the biggest expansion possible and against a limitation to focus on drop outs. On the voucher issue, starting with the historic voucher battle of 2011, I have heard stories from Republicans who did not support leadership on key voucher issues being “taken to the woodshed.” No doubt some of that was going on during the first week after the hearing.
Then on Feb. 23rd, to sweeten the deal and gain more advocates for the bill, Chairman Behning introduced amendments to SB 334 which had nothing to do with voucher expansion. One amendment, a concept which the Indiana Department of Education had asked for in a different bill, would add a second count date for special education enrollment each year, in addition to the current December 1 count. The second amendment added language to tighten up the identification of misbehaving teachers and protect students from abuse following the investigations at Park Tudor and the national study of similar investigations printed recently in the Indianapolis Star. Chairman Behning took extensive testimony on the amendments addressing these two themes, taking up the entire Feb. 23rd meeting on these new topics. Voucher expansion was not mentioned. He still did not take a vote.
By the time of yesterday’s House Education Committee meeting (Feb. 25th), any Republican members who had thought about narrowing the voucher expansion to drop out recovery were back in line except one. Representative Cook, a retired public school superintendent, courageously opposed the chairman and voted for an amendment to limit the spring semester vouchers to “eligible choice scholarship students who have been expelled from a public or an accredited nonpublic school.” This concept, Amendment 7, was offered by Representative Austin and was defeated 4-8, with Representative Cook joining the three Democrats present, Representatives Vernon Smith, Terri Austin and Sue Errington.
The final voucher expansion bill, with an new amendment to begin an “information-only” second special education count and a new amendment to address misbehaving teachers, was then passed 8 - 4, with the same four representatives opposing the voucher expansion.
Public education advocates should thank Representatives Cook, Vernon Smith, Austin and Errington for standing up for public education and opposing the biggest voucher expansion bill since the 2013 expansion.
Senate Bill 334 now goes to the House Ways and Means Committee scheduled to meet at 8:30 am on Monday, February 29th in Room 404. If you don’t like the way voucher expansion bills keep rolling out from the current Indiana General Assembly, write next to the members of the House Ways and Means Committee and let them know where you stand.
Take a moment to send a message by 8:30 Monday morning to the House Ways and Means Committee members to oppose Senate Bill 334 unless it is amended to focus the bill on drop out recovery. Tell them they should not expand vouchers generally to promote spring semester transfers.
Republicans on the Ways and Means Committee include Representative Tim Brown, chair; Representative Cherry, vice-chair; and Representatives Karickhoff, Baird, Truitt, Thompson, Leonard, Braun, Clere, Davisson, Huston, Mayfield, Negele, Ober, Slager, and Sullivan.
Democrats on the committee include Representative Porter, ranking member; and Representatives DeLaney, Goodin, Klinker, Niezgodski, Pryor, Riecken and Stemler.
Democracy is not a spectator sport. Your messages make all the difference!
Thanks for your strong support of public education!
“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 ICPE lobbying efforts. As of July 1st, the start of our new membership year, it is time for all ICPE members to renew their membership.
Our lobbyist Joel Hand continues to represent ICPE during the 2016 short session. We need your memberships and your support to continue his work. We welcome 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.