Friday, February 25, 2011

From the Statehouse

Vic’s Statehouse Notes #67 February 25, 2011

Dear Friends,
Yesterday’s Indianapolis Star (Feb. 24th) listed eleven bills that House Democrats “have concerns about.” I have tracked four of these eleven bills on their journey through the House Education Committee: HB 1002, HB 1003, HB 1479, and HB 1584. Here are some details about these four bills that seem to be involved in the standoff:

House Bill 1002 – Charter School Expansion

In “Vic’s Notes #51-Jan. 21, 2011”, I detailed the testimony of 24 speakers in a five hour hearing, with 12 speaking for it and 12 speaking against it. It subsequently cleared the committee on a party line vote and was approved on third reading in the House, 59-37. Rep. Sullivan, a long time advocate for charter schools, coauthored the bill and was the only Democrat to vote for it. One Republican, Rep. Neese, voted against it. Dr. Bennett issued a press release announcing that the charter bill passed with bipartisan support. He might also have reported that it had bipartisan opposition.

The objection to the charter bill registered by the Indiana Coalition for Public Education was that it allowed private colleges and universities to be authorizers of charter schools. I and others in the ICPE believe that decisions committing public dollars to public charter schools must always be made by publicly elected or appointed entities, not by private college trustees who are not accountable to the public. It is bad public policy to let private entities determine the distribution of public money. Keep in mind, the authorizer gets to keep 3% of the public charter school tuition money for their trouble, so there is a financial incentive to push enrollment. Joel Hand, executive director of ICPE, gave strong testimony against allowing private colleges to be authorizers. In my own testimony, I argued the same point, saying that surely a new state charter board and many more mayors would expand charter schools enormously without the need to involve private colleges.

In a television interview, Kevin Brinegar, President of the Indiana Chamber of Commerce, said that only private colleges that had a School of Education would be allowed to authorize charter schools, but he was incorrect. The only restriction on private colleges is that they must be non-proprietary colleges, that is, not-for-profit colleges.

Interestingly in the long debate over second reading amendments, coauthor Rep. Sullivan sponsored the amendment to delete private colleges as authorizers. One might think that her months of faithful work with Speaker Bosma as a coauthor might give her enough respect to gain bipartisan support in ending this one highly divisive provision. It didn’t work. Her amendment attracted the support of only two Republicans, and it was soundly defeated. As HB 1002 now stands, any not-for-profit private college or university approved by the state board can authorize any number of charter schools.

House Bill 1003 – School Vouchers

Whether to privatize public education is the question of our generation. I absolutely oppose giving public tax dollars for private school tuition. House Bill 1003 is the tip of the spear for privatization, providing both private school vouchers and expanded private school tax credits. It would push privatization further than any other state has ever done, making Indiana “Exhibit #1” for undermining public education with privatization measures. It deserves to be on anybody’s list of bills to fight with fervor.

Faithful readers of “Vic’s Statehouse Notes” already know the irreparable harm that HB 1003 would do to public school students. Notes #52, #60, #62, #63, #64, #65 and #66 have focused on details of this bill. No more needs to be added here, except to say the latest talking points document against HB 1003 is attached for your use with legislators and colleagues.

House Bill 1479 – Turnaround Academies

In a normal legislative session – and this is clearly not a normal session – House Bill 1479 would be a centerpiece of debate and controversy. As the session has unfolded, it has received almost no attention. It would be the first legislative revision of Public Law 221, Indiana’s accountability system. PL221 was passed as a collaborative bipartisan measure in 1999. This revision is clearly not bipartisan.

Here are its major provisions:

1) Consequences including state take-over for schools in the lowest (F) category of PL221 would now apply to schools that have been in the lowest two categories (D or F). This change would immediately jump the number of schools eligible for state take-over from about 20 to about 220. There would no longer be any real difference between D schools and F schools. Both categories would get the same consequences. This bill would have the practical effect of reducing the number of PL 221 categories for school ratings from five to four: A,B,C and F.

2) The state could turn schools in these lowest categories over to Turnaround School Operators (TSO’s) under a contract for 5 years. The contract could also be renewed for 5 years.

3) Nothing in the bill prohibits Turnaround School Operators from being for-profit management companies. Joel Hand, executive director of ICPE, testified against allowing for-profit managers under this bill. Chairman Behning, in response, expressed support for for-profit companies in this arena.

It seems clear to me that with for-profit companies, the public never knows whether students are getting the funding they should get or whether the company is shorting the students to maximize profits for owners and shareholders. It is a fundamental, unsolvable problem with for-profit school management companies working with public school students and public school dollars: Isn’t any level of profit going to take money away that could be funding student programs? Private companies do not want all financial matters to be transparent to let the public know about their profit margin.

This is the point from the bill that the House Democrats seem to be focused on.

4) After the turnaround school is successfully released from the contract, HB 1479 would make it an independent school not linked to its original school district. This is a new concept, and it is hard to know what it would mean. The language on the General Assembly website still says it would be an “independent school corporation,” but an amendment from Chairman Behning last Monday (Feb. 21st) when the bill passed committee took out the concept of “corporation.” The committee approved the bill 8-3 on a party line vote.

Any bill that could create over 200 independent schools, a new concept, certainly deserves a high level of attention for a complete statewide discussion and debate.

House Bill 1584 – Deregulation

HB 1584 was a vehicle bill and has had a strange history under the radar. To this moment, if you go to HB 1584 on the General Assembly website and click on “latest printing”, it will simply tell you it is a vehicle bill, which means it has been filed as a blank shell for possible later use to insert new language. The language inserted originally allowed the state board of education to grant a waiver to any school for any statute except for a short list of protected statutes, all in the name of deregulation. Discussions were held about the vast scope of these waivers at a meeting few attended. The low attendance had to do with the fact that the meeting was announced at the end of a late Monday night floor session to be held the next morning. No vote was taken at that meeting.

Then by Monday morning (Feb. 21), Chairman Behning amended the bill to call for a study of deregulation to be completed by Nov. 1, 2011. To see the final version of the bill that the House Education Committee approved 9-2 on Feb. 21st, click on “Committee Report” on the General Assembly website information under HB 1584.

In this form, the bill certainly does not carry the incredible consequences that the other three bills carry.

I hope these notes will give you the information you need to discuss these matters with legislators and others in the Third House sessions this weekend and throughout the coming week. Keep up the good work of communicating with legislators during this crucial time!

Best wishes,

Vic Smith


  1. The union teaching laborers are an embarrassment to our state and a bad example to our children.

  2. It would be more useful to say more here but as this blog is hoping to encourage dialogue....we'll leave that up to the poster.