The General Assembly has given Indiana’s public schools a new unfunded mandate.
Action in the General Assembly has made it imperative that public schools establish quality pre-kindergarten programs. Without them, enrollment in public schools will wither.
Why, you say?
The 2017 Session of the General Assembly, reversing a key policy set in law in the 2014 General Assembly, has made pre-K students who get a state grant to attend a private pre-school eligible to enroll in that school’s K-12 program with a taxpayer-funded voucher .
The pre-kindergarten law passed in 2014 carried language ensuring no link between pre-kindergarten grants and K-12 vouchers: “The receipt of a grant under the pilot program does not qualify, nor have an effect on the qualification or eligibility, of a child for a Choice Scholarship.”
In the recently concluded 2017 session, the House passed a pre-K bill (HB 1004) to reverse this language and make pre-K grants a pipeline to K-12 vouchers. The Senate later deleted the House language on this point and again removed pre-K grants as a pathway to expanding K-12 vouchers.
In the Conference Committee to reconcile the different House and Senate versions, the House won. Pre-K grants are now the latest pathway to K-12 vouchers, the eighth pathway.
This result has tremendous implications for Indiana’s public schools. If public schools want to enroll kindergarten students, they must now make immediate plans to establish pre-K programs to compete with private pre-K programs which now plan to lift their market share of K-12 students one pre-K student at a time.
As the pre-K program expands, all state-funded pre-K students could end up in private K-12 schools using a voucher unless quality public school options are available for pre-K as well.
If public schools decide to leave pre-K programs to private schools, HB 1004 will lead to the enrollment of most of the pre-K students on state grants into private school kindergartens, and into private school first grades the year after that.
Through House Bill 1004, private school advocates can now set plans to recruit every pre-K student to private pre-schools, taking away future public school students and filling up current private K-12 schools as well as national franchise private schools coming in the future.
For survival in the next decade, it is now clear that public schools must begin or expand quality pre-kindergarten programs.
The Conference Committee on House Bill 1004
The Conference Committee had to reconcile several differences between the House and Senate pre-K bills, but the issue with the most K-12 impact was the provision to give vouchers to those with pre-K grants in private K-12 schools that accept vouchers.
The language of the Conference Committee was trimmed from the original bill. Eligibility was secured for each pre-K student that “continues to attend the eligible school at which the individual attended a prekindergarten program.” The language left is plenty to force an unfunded mandate on public schools that want to compete for kindergarten students.
House conferees won one more expansion of voucher eligibility. Now as pre-K students with state grants move to kindergarten, they are eligible for a voucher. Projecting growth in pre-K over many years, voucher advocates no doubt were determined to secure this pathway to K-12 vouchers because it obviously could result in nearly universal vouchers as the goal of universal pre-K is reached.
Senator Melton, who worked hard to break the link between pre-K grants and K-12 vouchers, refused to sign the conference committee report and was replaced at the last minute by Senator Raatz.
The Fiscal Cost of Expanded K-12 Vouchers in HB 1004
In addition to the new funding for pre-K expansion, extra fiscal costs will be required to pay for the K-12 voucher commitments this new law makes to pre-K students who stay in voucher schools for kindergarten. In estimating those extra costs, the non-partisan Legislative Services Agency found that “in FY 2017, there were 171 children attending preschool at Choice Scholarship schools” in the current programs. Then as a foreshadow of additional costs in future years, the LSA stated “As more students participate in the Pilot Programs, more Choice Scholarships would be awarded if participants choose to apply for Choice Scholarships and capacity is available in participating Choice Scholarship schools.”
You get the picture. There is enormous potential for growth and extra voucher costs.
As for now, basing potential costs on the 171 students now in the program, LSA stated “if all children enroll in Choice programs, and they would not have attended public school otherwise, there would be an increase in expenditures of $738,378 in FY2018 and $748,638 in FY2019.”
Paying for students to go to private school when they always planned to go to private school carries a significant fiscal cost.
In the final votes on the Conference Committee Report, support for pre-K expansion carried the day. The House approved the bill 82-16 and the Senate approved the bill 31-19.
The fight to stop K-12 voucher expansion through pre-K programs was lost in the closed door discussions of the Conference Committee.
Now public school leaders need to respond to this unfunded mandate to expand quality pre-K programs.
Thanks to all who sent messages to legislators to break the link between pre-K and K-12 voucher expansion.
Thank you for your active support of public education in Indiana!
Vic Smith firstname.lastname@example.org
“Vic’s Statehouse Notes” and ICPE received one of three Excellence in Media Awards presented by Delta Kappa Gamma Society International, an organization of over 85,000 women educators in seventeen countries. The award was presented on July 30, 2014 during the Delta Kappa Gamma International Convention held in Indianapolis. Thank you Delta Kappa Gamma!
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