A bipartisan group of former Indiana education chiefs are speaking out against Republican-led legislation to expand the state’s private school voucher program. Jennifer McCormick, Glenda Ritz and Suellen Reed Goddard released a letter criticizing the proposals for diverting funding away from traditional public school students.
House Bill 1005 seeks to expand the eligibility of who can receive a school voucher and would create the "education scholarship program" to allow some families funding for education services outside of public school.
The House is expected to take up the bill for final vote Tuesday.
Reed Goddard took part in a virtual event Monday with the Indiana Coalition for Public Education, a non-profit organization opposes legislation to fund private school vouchers. Goddard urged people to call their elected officials to oppose the House bill and other legislation.
"Now is not the time to divert any of our funding from public education where about 94% of our students are educated," she said. "We are in the throes of a pandemic which challenges technology, teaching techniques, students and parents support and workforce issues."
Goddard and others fear Gov. Eric Holcomb's modest increase for K-12 funding in his two-year budget proposal will be erased by legislation expanded choice options if they become law.
State Rep. Bob Behning, R-Indianapolis, who authored the House bill and chairs the House Education Committee chair, says the legislation would allow parents to find the way best suited for their child to be educated.
The most recent fiscal analysis reports the programs would cost at least $66 million over the next two years. The three former elected state superintendents of public education say that means other initiatives could struggle with less funding, such as increasing teacher pay.
The legislation would increase eligibility in the Choice Scholarship Program from low- and middle-income families to a family of four with annual income of around $145,000. The state’s median family income is nearly $74,000.
In 2019, Indiana’s Choice Scholarship Program enrolled 36,707 students at a cost of $172.7 million in scholarships. The program is considered the largest in the country.
This bill would also create the education scholarship program to provide state funding to military families, children in special education and children in foster care to spend on education services outside of public school.
McCormick, Ritz and Reed have called for more accountability among the state’s education reforms, such as vouchers and charter schools, and increased funding to traditional public schools.
“Indiana’s most vulnerable youth and families deserve a per-pupil funding level that promotes adequate and equitable funding,” the three wrote in a letter released Friday. “Unfortunately, the language of HB 1005 gives advantages to families with high incomes and adds disadvantages for our most vulnerable by shifting risks.”
McCormick was the last elected state superintendent, the position is now appointed by the governor. McCormick was elected as a Republican in the 2016 election when she ousted Ritz, a Democrat, and served until January 2021.
Ritz, a Democrat, was superintendent for a term marked by political infighting with Republican lawmakers and former Governor Mike Pence. Reed, a Republican, was Indiana school chief from 1993 to 2009.