Sunday, May 21, 2017

Vic’s Statehouse Notes #299 – May 20, 2017

Dear Friends,

News reports say that Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos will announce her tax credit plan to fund private school tuition with federal money at a meeting in Indianapolis this Monday, May 22nd.

This is the first nationwide step in the Trump Administration plan to take to cut federal funding for public schools and start using federal funds to support private school tuition scholarships.

A bill to fund tax credits to help private schools has already been filed in Congress.

It is not surprising that Betsy DeVos wants to announce her plan in Indiana. She has been the most influential funder behind Indiana’s historic and damaging switch to giving public tax money to private and religious schools and the relentless deconstruction of public schools in Indiana.

According to reporters Stephanie Wang and Chelsea Schneider (Indianapolis Star, Jan. 15, 2017, p. 21A) DeVos has provided $2.5 million since 2004 to provide campaign funds for Indiana politicians who support vouchers. That paved the way to historic votes in 2009, 2011, 2013 and now 2017 which step by step have advanced the privatization of the public school system in Indiana.

The Deconstruction of Public Education

As the dust settles after adjournment of the 2017 Indiana General Assembly, it is clear that the deconstruction of public schools in Indiana has continued.

The third pillar of Indiana public education fell in this session. We will no longer have a Superintendent of Public Education but rather a secretary of education which will no longer be elected by the public after the 2020 election (House Bill 1005).

The deconstruction of public education is led by the followers of the policies of the late Milton Friedman and funded by Betsy DeVos. They have developed a strong power base in the Indiana General Assembly which has prevailed on this issue for nine years.

Previous Pillars

If the third pillar fell in 2017, what were the previous two pillars to fall?

1) The first pillar fell in 2009, when for the first time public money was budgeted for private school tuition through tax credits for donors to Scholarship Granting Organizations. The 2009 budget gave $5 million over two years for tax credits that would refund 50% of each donor’s gift toward private school scholarships. In the new 2017 budget funding for such tax credits, once $5 million, now stands at $26.5 million over the next two years.

This is the program that Betsy DeVos wants to begin nationwide to use federal money to pay for private school tuition.

The Indiana program passed in 2009 is the most generous tax credit available in Indiana. Donors giving to private school scholarship organizations get 50% back when they file state income tax forms, and there is no limit per taxpayer! A million dollar donation would produce a $500,000 tax credit, ideal for high income earners who want to support private schools. The only limit is the total annual appropriation, so taxpayers have to make their claim before others take the credits.

2) The second pillar fell in 2011 when the historic voucher law passed, giving public money directly to private school parents and schools for private school tuition. Funding for private school vouchers cost taxpayers $146 million in the current 2016-17 school year, up from $15 million in the first year of the program, 2011-12.

For those who would like to see the details of annual voucher costs, please see the attached six-year overview.

Sadly, the policies of the current leadership in the General Assembly have sent the message that more pillars will be attacked each new session in pursuit of Milton Friedman’s goal to end public education and provide universal vouchers.
Will the General Assembly’s Priority on Helping Private Schools Be Reversed?

The plan to diminish support and funding for public education is proceeding apace. Besides ending the independent voice of the elected State Superintendent, this legislative session:
1) created an eighth pathway for eligibility for a private school voucher. Seven pathways established in 2011 and 2013 have produced 34,299 students eligible for a voucher, 54.6% of whom have never enrolled previously in a public school. The eighth pathway is to attend a private preschool with a state pre-K grant and then stay on in the same private school for kindergarten and beyond at taxpayer’s expense (House Bill 1004).

2) made it possible to keep getting new voucher students when private schools get low school letter grades. HB 1384 was amended to allow a loophole for voucher schools making a D or F to continue to enroll new voucher students by filing an appeal to the State Board of Education. Currently, voucher schools making a D or F for two years can keep enrolling their current voucher students but can’t enroll new voucher students until their school grades improve.

3) made it possible for the first time for a new private school to get vouchers in the first year of operation (HB 1384). Previously, operation for at least one year was required while the school was reviewed for accreditation.
In Summary

All in all, it was a good legislative session for the privatizers. Public education remains on the ropes and now it is being attacked nationally through the work of Betsy DeVos.

Public education will remain in jeopardy until candidates and voters in election campaigns make it clear that the deconstruction our system of public education in Indiana and in the nation is unacceptable and is damaging to our democracy.

I urge you to write members of Congress that you oppose the DeVos plan to take federal money away from public schools and give it instead to private schools via federal tax credit scholarships.

I urge you to write members of the Indiana General Assembly that you are disappointed that they sent the message again in this session that public education is a low priority and that expanding public dollars for private schools continues to get priority attention from the leaders of the General Assembly.

Thank you for your active support of public education in Indiana and nationwide!

Best wishes,

Vic Smith

“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 is again representing ICPE in the new budget session which began on January 3, 2017. 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 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.


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