Deadline nears on charter schools bill

Indiana advocates for traditional public schools are doing what they can in the little time that’s left to block legislation that would let charter schools share in the revenue produced by local property-tax referendums.

They had no chance to weigh in on the measure before Monday, when it was approved by the Senate as an amendment to House Bill 1065, dealing with various tax matters. That’s because it didn’t appear until Monday morning. Its author bypassed the normal legislative process, which includes committee hearings in both the House and Senate and a chance for the public to speak.

Now the legislation is in the hands of a House-Senate conference committee, which is supposed to work through disagreements and craft the final form of the bill before the House and Senate adjourn. There’s talk at the Statehouse that the session could end as early as Tuesday.

As it stands, the legislation says public school districts may share the proceeds of property-tax referendums with local charter schools – it doesn’t say they have to. But public-school supporters worry that, once the language is adopted, it will be easy for lawmakers to make it a requirement.

They have two opportunities to stop it:

  • They can get members of the conference committee to drop the language from the version of the bill that they produce, called a conference committee report.
  • If that fails, they can persuade either the House or Senate to vote down the conference committee report when it comes to them for ratification. That’s a tougher lift, because the bill will include other provisions that have majority support in both chambers.

The Indiana Coalition for Public Education, on its blog, is urging members to contact legislators, especially conference committee members and advisers and House and Senate leadership, about the bill. And the Indiana School Boards Association sent members a series of talking points, urging them to contact legislators and call for the removal or defeat of the referendum language.

“The opportunity for public input on this legislation has been circumvented,” the school boards group says. “These provisions should be fully vetted in the legislative process and action on these measures should be deferred to the 2021 budget session.”

No school district has admitted to wanting to share revenue with charter schools, so where did the amendment come from? Maybe from advocates for charter schools – like Hoosiers for Quality Education, which donated $676,000 to Indiana Republican election campaigns in 2018 and 2019. School-choice supporters were said to be pushing hard for the legislation this week.

Republican Gov. Eric Holcomb hasn’t said anything publicly about the issue. But Lt. Gov. Suzanne Crouch cast the tie-breaking vote that enabled the charter-school amendment to pass.

The real issue here is that Indiana Republicans are cutting out the public when they rewrite public policy. And it’s not just the charter school funding measure. They’ve used the same tactic of late amendments to target new Indianapolis landlord-tenant regulations, block the expansion of public transit in central Indiana and effectively ban panhandling in Indy’s downtown.

Do they have so little regard for the public, or will they listen? We’ll know more in a few days.

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