OK, so it’s not original and it’s not even our idea. But that play on the famous New York Daily News headline from 1975 pretty well sums up what the Indiana House did today.
It was Rep. Ed Delaney, D-Indianapolis, who, in an impassioned debate today on the school voucher bill, recalled the Daily News headline over President Gerald Ford’s threat to veto a financial bailout of New York City: “Ford to City: Drop dead.”
“This says, ‘Indiana General Assembly to public schools: Drop dead,” Delaney said.
The House had already given final approval today to House Bill 1002, which greatly expands the number of entities that can sponsor charter schools. Then it approved House Bill 1003, creating the most extensive private-school voucher program in the country.
The votes were 61-34 for the charter-schools bill and 56-43 for the voucher bill. You have to wonder what was said behind closed doors in a House GOP caucus to persuade sensible, moderate Republicans – and there are a few – to vote for the voucher bill. (Four Republicans did vote no).
You can watch the April 27 floor debate on the House video archives.
HB 1002 expands sponsorship of charter schools to private colleges and universities and a state charter board, while adding some accountability measures. It also provides mechanisms for charter schools to take over unused or under-used facilities that were built for students of traditional public schools.
On the plus side, it may create more choices for some parents. It won support from one House Democrat, the thoughtful Mary Ann Sullivan of Indianapolis. But with the doors opening for many more charter schools, someone will have to keep an eye out for operators looking to make a fast buck. Is the Department of Education up to the task?
HB 1003, the voucher bill, on the other hand, is pure politics – a bailout for religious schools and a payoff for wealthy free-market ideologues who bankrolled House Republican candidates. The bill provides state-funded tuition subsidies for parents who transfer their children from public schools to private schools. Families whose income is nearly three times the poverty rate can qualify.
It is also a mess. As Rep. Scott Pelath, D-Michigan City, pointed out, there is a “glaring conflict” in the bill. It piles regulations onto private schools that accept voucher students at the same time it insists that the state “may not in any way regulate the educational program” of the schools.
Democrats pointed out that, while the bill prohibits voucher schools from discriminating on the basis of race, color or national origin, it gives a green light to discrimination by religion or disability. Also, the Senate was in such a hurry to add a tax deduction for private-school and home-school parents that it didn’t bother to link the deduction to actual spending. The way the bill reads, if parents spent anything on home-school expenses – even $1 – they’re entitled to a $1,000 deduction.
The state can apparently afford this new tax deduction, estimated to cost $3 million a year. But it can’t provide a deduction for the money that public-school parents spend on textbook fees and other expenses or a tax credit for contributions to foundations that support public schools.