Thursday, February 20, 2014

Vic’s Statehouse Notes #173 – February 20, 2014

Dear Friends,

On this coming Monday February 24th, an amendment will be offered on second reading in the House to Senate Bill 282 to require private schools getting vouchers for disabled students to comply with the Americans with Disabilities Act. It is only fair that if private schools are getting state money for educating disabled students, they should have facilities that comply with ADA.

In 2011, the House voted 94-1 to add ADA compliance for voucher schools. Then the Senate took it out.

Please send messages to members of the House this weekend urging their strong support of the ADA amendment to SB 282. Currently, SB 282 simply restates rules already in use about vouchers for disabled students.

Meanwhile, in Wednesday’s Senate Education Committee (Feb. 19th), the Governor’s preschool bill HB 1004 was given a major overhaul. Senator Kenley offered Amendment 12 to the committee which substituted language creating a summer study on preschool which would address ten key policy topics. The amended bill passed the committee by a vote of 9-0.

The Senate version and the House version are now vastly different. If the Senate version prevails, public school advocates need to participate in the summer discussions to keep the proposals focused on helping preschoolers rather than on creating a pipeline to K-12 private school vouchers.

Thank you for all the messages sent to Senators opposing the linkage between preschool scholarships and K-12 vouchers. Your voice has been heard.

Will the General Assembly Open the Budget in a Non-Budget Year?

Since the beginning of the session, Senator Kenley has expressed reluctance to commit funding to bills when the budget won’t be reviewed until next year. Several bills brought by the Governor asked for approval now and funding next year. On HB 1004, it appears that Senator Kenley and Senate leaders are following their preferred policy of considering all funding programs simultaneously in the long session next year.

The fiscal cost for HB 1004 has been confusing from the start. Governor Pence in December called for a program that would fund a quality preschool for 40,000 low-income students, at a cost cited by Senator Kenley on Wednesday to be $270 million. The first LSA fiscal estimate said the preschool scholarships would cost $24 million and the resulting K-12 vouchers would add $1.6 million. Then the revised LSA fiscal estimate said the preschool scholarships would cost up to $30 million with the attached K-12 vouchers adding up to $1.9 million. Then the Governor’s Center for Education weighed in with a lengthy report and cost estimate saying HB 1004 would cost $10 million, but not until 2015-16, while at the same time citing immediate costs in 2014-15 totaling $650,000.

It is no wonder that Senator Kenley wanted a more thorough evaluation of the costs before approving the program.

Preschool Policy Topics to Be Studied

The revised bill would have the Education Commission, which is comprised of the members of the Education Committees of both Houses, study ten topics. While a copy of the amendment was not available to the public at the meeting, Senator Kenley listed several of them in his comments:
  • Waivers to use for preschool the $115 million in federal funds given to Head Start, which he called “notably unsuccessful.”
  • Waivers to use for preschool the $180 million in federal Child Care Development Grants.
  • Partnerships with corporations and charitable organizations.
  • Economic benefits of preschool programs.
  • Accountability standards for preschools used in other states such as Florida.
  • Parental involvement in early childhood education.
  • Placement of preschool standards with IDOE and the State Board as with K-12 standards, instead of with FSSA, which he said was already “busy.”
  • Setting the appropriate family income standard for preschool assistance, currently set in the bill as 185% of the federal poverty level, which he said translates to $270 million for 40,000 preschoolers.
  • Partnerships with investment groups as Utah has done, issuing Goldman Sachs bonds funding preschools with the intent of repaying the bonds with savings in special education services.
Nothing was said in the committee discussion about the bill’s linkage to K-12 vouchers. This link would potentially fuel a major expansion of the Choice Scholarship program for 40,000 incoming kindergarten students. This would drastically impact public school marketing for kindergarten enrollment.

Vigilant pubic school advocates should follow the development of preschool policies to keep preschool separate from the controversial K-12 voucher program that proponents are using to privatize the public schools of Indiana. There is no reason to bog down progress on preschool with the controversial K-12 voucher program.

Send Messages to House Members about Senate Bill 282

SB 282 clarifies the 2013 voucher expansion language regarding vouchers for students in need of special education services. It restates what is already in current practice according to rules adopted last summer by the State Board.

ICPE lobbyist Joel Hand has learned that a second reading amendment to SB 282 will be offered as early as Monday (Feb. 24th) to require private schools getting vouchers for disabled students to comply with the facility standards of the Americans with Disabilities Act, as all public schools already must do. It is only fair that disabled students attending private voucher schools have these facility accommodations, yet they are not required now.

The recent IDOE Annual Report on Choice Scholarships reported that 1088 students needing special education services received vouchers costing Indiana taxpayers $4.4 million. Of these 1088, 311 students had never before attended an Indiana public school, creating a new fiscal expense to taxpayers of $1.3 million.

The proposed second reading amendment would bring ADA compliance for these 1088 students. Requiring ADA compliance was passed by the House in the original debate on the voucher bill in March of 2011. The 2011 amendment adding ADA compliance passed the House 94-1 in a strong bipartisan vote. One House member told me later that requiring ADA compliance was one reason he voted for the controversial bill. Then the Senate took the provision out. The House now has a chance to resurrect their previous commitment to fairness to disabled students in voucher schools.

The executive director of the Indiana Private School Association said in testimony recently that the reason why private schools should not be subject to ADA standards is that churches are exempted from the federal ADA regulations. It is interesting that he equates private schools getting tax money for disabled students with churches.

Let members of the House know via email or in Third House sessions this weekend that you think private voucher schools should comply with ADA facility standards if they are going to take tax money to educate disabled students. Students in private schools need accommodations just like students in public schools do.

Thanks for contacting your legislators and 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 is now half way in its deliberations. We need your membership to help support our hard working lobbyist Joel Hand. 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 by going to our website.

Although ICPE entered this session of the General Assembly in better financial shape than in any previous session, we still need additional support to fund the commitments our board has made for our lobbying efforts. We are counting on your financial help during the session.

We have raised the needed money in past sessions, 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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