Lawmakers: Raise teacher pay by cutting elsewhere

Indiana legislators want to give educators a raise, but they don’t want to pay for it. Their plan: Shame school districts into cutting spending elsewhere so they can target dollars to teachers.

Their tool for doing this is House Bill 1003, unveiled this week by House Republicans and presented Wednesday to the House Education Committee. It would “strongly encourage” districts to spend at least 85 percent of their state funds on instruction; it would subject them to public scrutiny if they don’t.

Indiana StatehouseThe assumption behind the bill is that schools have plenty of money, but they waste it on bloated administrative expenses and frills. But the data don’t support that claim.

House Speaker Brian Bosma said in a news release that many school districts are spending as much as 20 percent of their state revenue on “overhead and operations.” That includes central administration as well as building maintenance, insurance, technology and other costs that districts can’t always control.

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Voucher foes fall short

The bad news for Indiana supporters of public education is that the state Senate voted Wednesday to expand the state’s already generous school voucher program.

The good news: At least the vote was close.

Ten Republicans joined all 13 Democrats in the Senate to vote against House Bill 1003. The tally was 27-23. Bucking party leadership and standing with public schools were GOP Sens. Sue Landske, Jim Tomes, John Waterman, Vaneta Becker, Ronnie Alting, Ed Charbonneau, Susan Glick, Randy Head, Ryan Mishler and Ron Grooms.

Indiana gives private-school tuition vouchers to students whose families make up to 277 percent of the federal poverty level: $65,000 for a family of four. Until now, students have had to spend at least a year in a public or charter school to qualify. The bill passed by the Senate would lift that requirement for:

// Students who live in the attendance area of a school that gets an F on the state’s grading system.
// Siblings of students who currently receive vouchers.
// Students in special education. (And in their case, the income limit is 370 percent of the poverty level: $87,000 for a family of four).

Leaving aside questions about the appropriateness of handing over taxpayer money to unaccountable private schools – almost all of which are religious schools – the bill raises serious questions. How much will it cost? There’s no way to know how many more students will qualify for vouchers, or how many will take advantage. Continue reading

Some Republicans cool to school voucher idea

Gov. Mitch Daniels has so far been able to count on a solid wall of support for his education agenda from the Republican majority in the Indiana legislature. But the wall may be cracking when it comes to one key element of his agenda: state-funded vouchers to pay for private-school tuition.

Sen. Brent Steele, R-Bedford, raised concerns about House Bill 1003, the voucher legislation, last week. In a letter to all legislators, he worried about using public funds to support religious schools.

If the state can’t favor one religion over another, Steele asked, what’s to prevent vouchers from being used at a radical Muslim madrassa that teaches children to hate Christians and Jews? Or a school affiliated with Westboro Baptist Church, which pickets the funerals of U.S. soldiers with signs that say God hates soldiers because they represent the United States?

“What if you get a school that’s taking vouchers and it’s teaching a particular brand of hate or intolerance? You may never know,” he told School Matters.

Steele also mentioned Article 1, Section 6 of the Indiana Constitution: “No money shall be drawn from the treasury, for the benefit of any religious or theological institution.”

“That, to me, means just what it says,” he said.

Steele said he wrote to colleagues because Continue reading