Wednesday, January 29, 2014

Vic’s Statehouse Notes #169 – January 28, 2014

Dear Friends,

For your immediate attention tonight and tomorrow:

Two voucher expansion bills have been scheduled for hearings tomorrow that deserve your immediate action tonight to contact members of the Senate Education Committee:

Senate Bill 322, scheduled for a hearing Wednesday, Jan. 29th at 1:30pm, would make it easier to become a voucher school by removing the requirement to give ISTEP. The bill would allow private schools to be eligible for the voucher program if they administer “a nationally norm-referenced test approved by the state board.”

By removing the ISTEP requirement, these private voucher schools would no longer receive school letter grades. Current voucher schools would be allowed to stop taking ISTEP and to stop getting a school letter grade while retaining their eligibility for voucher money. This is a giant step backward on accountability in the voucher program and would be completely unfair to all other schools who must take ISTEP.

Senate Bill 282, scheduled for the same Wednesday hearing at 1:30pm, is simply not necessary. It rewrites law to restate current practice with vouchers for special education students. A dispute over the rules for special education vouchers last summer prompted an Attorney General’s ruling that special education students under current language could get a voucher at a private school and then could opt to have special education services provided either at the private school or at the local public school.

This bill confirms current practice, so there is no need for the bill, but since voucher proponents want to reopen the issue, we should require private schools who want to enroll special education students to meet the building standards of the Americans for Disability Act, as all public schools must do. Private schools should not get tax dollars to serve the special education population if they are not equipped to help all handicapped students.

These bills are part of the never-ending march led by Gov. Pence, Speaker Bosma and President Pro Tempore Long to expand vouchers and to privatize public education.

The Senate Education and Career Development Committee will hear these and other bills at 1:30pm tomorrow, Wednesday, January 29th in the Senate Chamber.

Before then, I hope all who support public education and oppose any further expansion of vouchers will contact members of the Senate Education Committee with a clear message:

Reject Senate Bills 322 and 282.

Senate Bill 322

As Indiana jettisons a flawed A-F system that failed because it was rooted in norm-referenced measures, this bill sponsored by Senator Schneider and Senator Banks comes along to claim that accountability using a “nationally norm-referenced test” is just fine. Indiana stopped using norm-referenced tests for accountability purposes over a decade ago. The thought that voucher schools could take state money for private school tuition but not be held accountable on ISTEP tests should outrage every taxpayer.

Some private schools don’t like ISTEP because it may potentially be linked with the Common Core, and they oppose the Common Core. However the battle over the Common Core comes out, ISTEP is Indiana’s test based on the standards approved by the State Board. There should be no other measuring stick for accountability in Indiana. Allowing voucher schools to substitute the Iowa Test of Basic Skills for ISTEP is totally inappropriate and unfair to all other schools in the competitive marketplace of schools that Indiana has created.

The bill adds the following line: “The department (1) may not require an eligible school to report any information that is not necessary to carry out this chapter; and (2) shall reduce undue reporting burdens on eligible schools.” The key questions here are: Who decides what information is “necessary”? And who decides what is “undue”? If private schools are taking tax money, they should provide information as needed to show accountability for the public money. If they ever thought public money would come with absolutely no strings attached, they did not understand that taxpayers need to know that their tax money is being spent appropriately.

This bill should be rejected. We must maintain accountability through ISTEP for all voucher schools. If the Senate has lost faith in ISTEP, then all schools should be allowed to use an alternative test.

Senate Bill 282

Last summer’s argument over special education vouchers ended with a clear statement from the Attorney General about how the law should be interpreted. SB 282 sponsored by Senator Eckerty simply reflects that interpretation, so the bill is not necessary. It does raise the question, though, about how private schools can be allowed to get full tuition plus special education funds for disabled students without having a facility that complies with the Americans for Disability Act.

In 2011, the House passed the historic voucher bill with a provision that private schools must comply with ADA facility standards in order get voucher money. Several members of the House said how important that point was to them in voting for the bill. Then in the Senate, the ADA facility requirement was dropped and disappeared.

It makes no sense that private schools are serving disabled students, taking the state’s foundation money plus the special education grant, when the private school facilities do not meet the ADA standards that every public school has to meet.

This bill should be rejected. It is not needed. It describes what is already in the rules. It fails to require that schools serving disabled students comply with the ADA facility standards, just as House members voted in 2011.

Please contact members of the Senate Education Committee and other Senators as soon as possible. Of course, if you read this after tomorrow’s hearing, it would still help if they know of your opposition to SB 322 and SB 282 in the days ahead.

Thank you for your support of public education and your opposition to voucher expansion!

Best wishes,

Vic Smith

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.
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