Indiana school vouchers: House proposes, Senate disposes

They say the Senate is the “deliberative body,” as opposed to the impulsive, anything-goes House – and it’s proving true at the Indiana Statehouse, at least where education policy is concerned.

So far, the Senate has held back the wave of support for a nearly universal school voucher system pushed by the Friedman Foundation, Gov. Mike Pence and House leaders. The House passed a bill, HB 1003, that provided multiple add-ons to the state’s already generous voucher program. The Senate Education Committee scaled back the expansion.

As it stands now, HB 1003 would extend vouchers to:

// Students in special education whose families make up to 370 percent of the federal poverty level.
// Siblings of students who are already receiving vouchers.
// Students who live in the attendance area of a school that gets an F on the state’s grading system for one year, or a D for two years, and whose families make up to 277 percent of the poverty level.

The current system, created by a 2011 law, provides state tuition subsidies for students who attend private and religious schools if 1) the students first attended a public school for at least a year, and 2) their family income isn’t more than 277 percent of the poverty level. About 60 percent of Indiana families with children meet that income threshold.

Rep. Robert Behning, who authored HB 1003, wants to extend vouchers further: to special-needs students and children of veterans, military personnel and foster parents, without regard to income. He also wants to give vouchers to all income-eligible students who sign up in kindergarten, with no requirement that they first attend public schools.

That didn’t fly with Sen. Luke Kenley and others on the Senate Education Committee. Continue reading

Pence’s school funding plan: Them that’s got shall get

In Mike Pence’s world, affluence is a virtue, worthy of being rewarded by the state. How else can one explain the governor’s education funding plan, included in the budget proposal he put forward last week?

Initial details were sketchy; maybe Pence will reveal more in his State of the State address tonight. But according to State Impact Indiana and the Indianapolis Star, he wants to increase funding for K-12 schools by only 1 percent each of the next two years – this when the state has more than $2 billion in the bank and he also wants to cut income taxes by 10 percent.

In the second year, the increase would only go to “high-achieving” schools: those that get an A or a B or improve by at least one letter grade in state ratings, and those where at least 90 percent of students graduate or pass the third-grade reading test. If you accept the thesis that funding should be an incentive for improvement, it could make sense to direct money to schools that raise their grades. But rewarding schools that get As and Bs is like giving a handout to those that need it least.

As of now, anyway, Indiana’s school grading metrics are based primarily on test scores and only secondarily on students’ academic growth. And research has consistently shown that family wealth is strongly correlated with test scores. Continue reading