Friday, January 31, 2014

Vic’s Statehouse Notes #170 – January 31, 2014

Dear Friends,

Your messages in opposition to SB 322 had a positive impact on Wednesday. The Senate Education Committee deleted the outrageous section of SB 322 that would have allowed voucher schools to ignore both ISTEP and the A-F school letter grade system.

What was left of the bill passed on a party line vote, prompting the need for more messages to kill the bill on the floor of the Senate early next week. We can be happy, however, that the effort to let voucher schools off the hook on ISTEP accountability and school letter grades has failed for now.

Public school advocates are incredulous they even tried.

Senate Bill 322

I couldn’t resist the urge to give you all the details on this one. The story is too rich for a brief summary, including a twist that I have never before observed on a bill in committee.

Senate Bill 322, clearly a key bill to ease the path for private schools in becoming eligible for vouchers and to further privatize the schools of Indiana, was scheduled as the last bill in an overcrowded agenda of eleven bills. I have no doubt this scheduling was by design. Few can stay to the end of long meetings to testify against such things. This meeting lasted over five hours, beginning at 1:30pm and adjourning at 6:45pm. Chairman Kruse was finally ready for SB 322 at 6:20pm.

Senator Schneider, the bill’s sponsor, offered an amendment to make the bill apply only to schools already eligible for vouchers on January 1, 2014, saying this would stop any new fiscal costs. The amendment was approved by consent.

Then he offered a second amendment which was more complex and was not distributed to the audience. Under this amendment, the line saying that voucher schools were not required to do IDOE paperwork would apply to voucher schools that are accredited by agencies other than the state. If they were state accredited they would continue to respond to all requirements. He said reporting requirements have become “onerous” and that some voucher schools have had to hire help to complete the reports. The amendment was approved by a vote of 9-3.

Then Senator Kenley asked about the lines changing the requirement of ISTEP, asking if we don’t need to give everybody the same test. Senator Schneider had not mentioned this key element about testing as he introduced the bill.

Senator Schneider described how the state dictates to eligible voucher schools through the assessment process. By requiring ISTEP, he said, the state can dictate the standards and the curriculum. He said voucher schools have now learned this with the introduction of the Common Core. He said that Florida allows an alternative test in their voucher program as proposed in this bill.

Florida. Once again, Florida is held up as a model for Indiana.

Other committee members weren’t buying his argument. Senator Broden asked why not “let all schools have an alternative test.”? Senator Schneider said that would be the basis for a good discussion, hinting that he is ready to question ISTEP accountability for all schools. He said that “standards change” but tests should “not change.” He said if it is a quality alternative assessment and students are “proving proficient” on it, “it should be OK with the state of Indiana.”

Think about that one.

Senator Rogers said that taking the same test would help students. Senator Leising questioned whether we could still grade schools if the school didn’t take ISTEP. By this time, several side consultations we going on among Senators. After a consultation between Senator Schneider and Chairman Kruse, Senator Schneider announced he had brought along a third amendment which deleted all references to substituting an alternative test for ISTEP. Other Senators of both parties looked relieved that he was giving up on his quest to allow voucher schools to ignore accountability on ISTEP, and they quickly agreed by consent to his amendment to “remove the testing component”.

Then something happened that I have never seen in my eighteen years of watching the General Assembly. Listen to this one:

Chairman Kruse announced that it was so late that members of the committee had to leave, so he would call for the vote now before they left and then he would stay to listen to anyone who came to testify.

I thought to myself that the drive to pass this bill certainly seemed strong, testimony or no testimony.

His announcement met with enough grumbling from committee members and a general buzz in the room that he changed his mind slightly and said that we would have one person testify on each side of the issue before the vote, with testimony to be limited to two minutes. He then called on the attorney that had apparently inspired Senator Schneider to introduce the bill who held up and described onerous paperwork that his client schools had do for the English Language Learner (ELL) program. He described long applications and data collection requirements that he believed were unfair to the voucher schools. He had far more than two minutes to say, and when he talked through Chairman Kruse’s request to conclude and was still going strong, Chairman Kruse gestured to me from the podium while the testimony continued to come forward to speak against the bill.

When my predecessor decided to relinquish the podium, I first thanked Senator Schneider for amending the bill to delete the section allowing voucher schools to ignore ISTEP. I said there is absolutely no need to pass the rest of the bill, because paperwork is inevitable if voucher schools take state money for programs like ELL, and taxpayer accountability requires that they fill out the forms needed. I said if they don’t feel like doing the paperwork, they should not apply to be an eligible voucher school. They should not be given the right to ignore needed reports via this bill.

My written testimony on the original bill which included secession from ISTEP is attached.

Chairman Kruse then called for the vote. All eight Republicans were still present and all voted “Yes.” Three Democrats were still present and all voted “No.” The bill passed 8-3.

Then as Senators on the committee left, others who had signed up to testify were called. The first three said they supported the bill without further comment. Then seven were called who had signed up in opposition to the bill: Chuck Little of the Indiana Urban Schools Association, Joel Hand of the Indiana Coalition for Public Education, Sally Sloan of the American Federation of Teachers-Indiana, Roni Embry of the Indiana State Teachers Association, Todd Bess of the Indiana Association of School Principals, Scott Tourney of the Small and Rural Schools Association and J.T. Coopman of the Indiana Association of Public School Superintendents. All who stayed to the end should be commended for sitting through over five hours of the meeting only to be told the vote would be taken before the testimony.

After listening to the hearing, it seems clear that the proposal to drop ISTEP was prompted by private schools that didn’t want the Common Core to influence them via ISTEP. Secession from ISTEP was not received well by the committee. What is left in SB 322 resulted from two schools hiring a lawyer because they thought that the IDOE was giving them too much ELL paperwork. There is already language in Indiana law, added in the 2011 voucher law by a 2011 amendment from Senator Schneider, which says: (IC 20-51-4-1)
the creation of the choice scholarship program does not expand the regulatory authority of the state, the state's officers, or a school corporation to impose additional regulation of nonpublic schools beyond those necessary to enforce the requirements of the choice scholarship program in place on July1, 2011
Apparently the schools and their lawyer decided it would be cheaper and easier to solve their paperwork problem by passing a new state law than by filing suit.

Why can’t public schools have that kind of access to power in the legislature?

Senate Bill 282

The other voucher bill, SB 282, was taken up next to last, about 6:10pm. Senator Eckerty, the sponsor, said it simply reflected current practice. Chuck Little and I testified that it therefore wasn’t needed. Joel Hand, lobbyist for ICPE, testified that the Attorney General’s opinion issued last summer did not recommend any change in state law. All three of us said that if voucher schools are going to take money for special education students, they should comply with facility standards for the disabled under the Americans for Disabilities Act, as all public schools must do.
 
The bill passed 7-4, with seven Republicans voting “Yes” and four Democrats voting “No”.

Next Steps

Both SB 322 and SB 282 will be going to the Senate floor on Monday for second reading and then third reading the next day. Public school advocates should continue to send notes of opposition. While SB 322 has been defanged, it could remain a vehicle for other voucher amendments in the House. The secession from ISTEP concept could be added back into the bill at any time.

I urge your continued messages of opposition to both bills.

Thanks for reading to the end, and thanks for your active support of public education!

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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