Joel Hand testimony & video on HB 1001 K-12 Funding Subcommittee
Thank you to our amazing lobbyist Joel Hand! He testified before the School Funding Subcommittee last week on March 25, 2021. He and almost 60 other speakers endured a 6-hour marathon meeting that lasted past 10pm. After he spoke, Joel was questioned by Senator Raatz on the constitutional obligation of the General Assembly as well as issue of vouchers and ESAs. Senator Brown wanted to talk about taxpayer dollars, which Joel was happy to do.
Here’s the short version of what to expect next:
- Please keep up the pressure on Senators to remove ESAs and voucher expansion from the budget bill. Your messages are making a difference. Please continue.
- Senate Bill 413, which has a voucher expansion, is set to be heard in the House Education Committee Wednesday morning at 8:30. Please contact members of that committee before Wednesday; this bill could be transformed with deletions or additions. Make sure members of the committee know that public school supporters are watching.
Indiana Coalition for Public Education Testimony on HB 1001
K-12 Funding Subcommittee
March 25, 2021
Good afternoon, I am Joel Hand representing the Indiana Coalition for Public Education. We very much appreciate the opportunity to address some thoughts and concerns related to the funding of K-12 schools.
First, the Hoosier parents, taxpayers and voters that comprise the ICPE, very much appreciate the efforts of the General Assembly to make a temporary change in the law that allows public schools who were forced to engage in virtual instruction for significant portions of the current school year to retain 100% ADM funding. Public schools were among the first to respond to the pandemic to provide assistance to public health agencies and first responders by donating PPE, ensuring that students were fed and that communities were protected. The legislature’s willingness to ensure that public schools were not unjustly punished for protecting students, families and staff by being flexible, creative and responsive to the global pandemic is appreciated.
Second, ICPE supports Governor Holcomb’s proposed K-12 budget proposal that called for a $377M increase for K-12 public schools. Although this proposed funding increase will barely keep up with inflation or may even fail to keep up with inflation, in light of the state revenue shortfalls experienced early in the pandemic, we understand that the budget will be tight and that now is not necessarily the time to catch up with previous K-12 public education funding shortfalls. However, we do oppose certain provisions of the House version of the Budget which I will now address.
Because we know that state revenues are down, ICPE strongly opposes the provisions of the House Budget, Section 75 (pages 110-111) that call for an increase in the cap on tax credits for donations to Scholarship Granting Organizations. The House budget proposes raising the cap on tax credits for donations to Scholarship Granting Organizations from the already generous $16.5M to $18M and $19M in each of the next 2 fiscal years. Tax credits (not deductions) create a significant reduction in state tax revenue. The SGO tax credit has been increased every single year since 2016. Now is not the time to further reduce state revenue by expanding these tax credits which are just another avenue for using tax dollars to fund private education.
ICPE also believes that now, when state revenues are down, it is not the time to divert even more taxpayer funds away from public and charter schools to support private schools and for the creation of unaccountable Education Scholarship Accounts (ESAs).
We heard Dr. Brown comment to the Appropriations Committee when the House Budget was presented that the State was not in the business of funding systems but of funding students. However, I would respectfully point out that the Indiana Constitution says otherwise. Article VIII, Section 1 clearly and plainly states, “it shall be the duty of the General Assembly … to provide, by law, for a general and uniform system of Common Schools, wherein tuition shall be without charge and equally open to all.” Your Constitutional duty is the fund a system of Common (aka public) schools. Your Constitutional duty is to provide for schools that are equally open to all and free of tuition. The funding of private school vouchers and ESAs do not fall within your Constitutional duty. In times of fiscal frugality, ignoring your Constitutional duty in favor of giving hefty funding increases to schools that are not open to all, that are not publicly accountable in how they spend tax dollars and not free of tuition is wrong.
The House Budget would call for a funding increase for K-12 public schools of 3% and 1.7%. However, it also calls for voucher schools to receive an increase of 23.4% and 29.3%, representing approximately 1/3 of the total funding increase being redirected away from public schools and instead to private schools. Since 2011 when the voucher program was created, Indiana has already spent in excess of $1 Billion taxpayer funds on private school vouchers. This year alone we will spend more than $172M on vouchers with more than 60% of those students never before having counted toward the state ADM. During this same 10 year period, Indiana’s funding of public school students fell more than $1B behind the rate of inflation meaning that when adjusted for inflation, we are spending less per pupil now than we did a decade ago.
In Sections 120 – 126 of the House Budget (pages 136-39), voucher eligibility is increased to allow for a family of 5 making up to $170,000 per year to qualify for a voucher worth 90% of state tuition support. The proposed increase in voucher eligibility does nothing to help the poor or disadvantaged. It only helps the upper middle class and wealthy.
Vouchers have turned out to be an unwise investment. Vouchers were initially sold as a means improve student achievement. Yet, studies of the Indiana Choice Scholarship Program have shown that students leaving public schools to attend voucher schools experience declines in standardized tests scores both initially and that those losses are sustained over time. Plus, Voucher schools already discriminate on the basis of religion, against special needs students, on the basis of gender identity or sexual orientation as well as students who are low academic achievers or have discipline issues. Clearly, these schools are not “open to all”. In fact, studies have also show that the number and percentage of students using a voucher are already coming from more affluent homes and are less likely to be children of color.
Voucher schools are not publicly accountable in how they spend tax dollars. With public schools, budgets are highly accountable, down to the penny, with budgets that are available to the public for review and board meetings open to the public for input and debate. Voucher schools have no such requirements and are free to spend tax money however they see fit with no state oversight.
The House Budget also calls for the creation of new Education Scholarship Accounts that allow a parent to receive approximately $7000 to educate their child outside of the public schools. However, parents accepting an ESA are not required to have their students participate in I-LEARN or other standardized testing to ensure that they are learning and making progress. They need not prove compliance with teaching Indiana academic standards. They are only required to use a part of the funding on the study of “reading, grammar, mathematics, social studies or science” (page 138). Where is the rigor? Where is the academic accountability?
Giving unregulated taxpayer dollars directly to parents who are free to use those funds to teach racial, gender, religious, economic and all other forms of discrimination, hate and bigotry or, for that matter, to teach the overthrow of our government and to support terrorism is wrong. There are no requirements that ESA money given to parents will be used to teach Civics. In fact, nothing would preclude a parent from taking their ESA funds and spending it to purchase say, a basketball goal, a flat screen television, a zoo membership, or even model trains. In other states where ESAs exist, parents have used the money to take the family to Disneyland! The opportunity for fraud and abuse is staggering. When public schools expend funds, they must do so transparently and only after approval by a publicly elected board. ESAs and voucher schools have no transparency, no public oversight and no financial accountability.
Thank you to listening to our concerns and we hope that you will ensure that public schools, the choice of 94% of Hoosier children, and where tax dollars are publicly accountable, are given the highest priority for funding.
I am now open for questions.