Late legislative surprises: Outsourcing custodians, tax breaks for home schoolers

Nearly a year ago, the Monroe County Community School Corp. made and then dropped plans to outsource custodial services. School officials thought – mistakenly, it turned out – they could pay for contracted cleaning services from the capital projects fund, thus leaving more of the general fund to spend on instruction.

If they had waited a year, they may have gotten away with it. A little-noticed amendment to Senate Bill 575 lets Indiana school corporations pay for custodial services from their capital projects funds – but only if they are outsourced to a private company.

Why? Who knows. School boards and administrators are always looking for more flexibility in how they spend school funds. But why provide the flexibility only if custodial services are outsourced? Why not let schools use their capital projects funds to pay the custodians that they employ?

Maybe the goal is to provide an incentive for outsourcing. It could provide a windfall for companies that stand to win contracts for custodial services – such as Sodexo, which will be paid $7 million over three years by Fort Wayne Community Schools. Or maybe it’s just a reflexive Republican slap at the public employee unions that, in some communities, represent school custodians and service workers.

SB 575, the primary purpose of which is to limit collective bargaining for teachers, has been approved by the Senate and House and is headed to Gov. Mitch Daniels to be signed into law.

Tax deduction for home-school families breaks new ground

Another late legislative surprise is a provision, approved this week by the Senate, to grant a state income-tax deduction of up to $1,000 for parents who home-school their children.

As Vic Smith of the Indiana Coalition for Public Education reports, the deduction was added as an amendment to House Bill 1003, the school voucher bill. The deduction, which also applies to private-school expenses, will cost the state $3 million. The maximum tax break would be about $44.

“This is a small savings for home school and private school parents,” Smith writes, “but it is a ‘foot in the door’ to bigger deductions after the precedent is set.”

Once again, there has been little to no discussion about whether this is good public policy — or good fiscal policy at a time when the state is pinching pennies.