Governor Pence takes a stand for freedom and local control of education
Heather Crossin • February 18, 2015 • Hoosiers Against Common Core
Last week, Governor Pence took a stand for restoring freedom and local control to Indiana schools, when he chose to publicly support Senator Schneider’s “Freedom in Testing” bill, SB470. The bill, which would allow private schools that accept vouchers to choose from a variety of nationally norm-referenced assessments to comply with state accountability measures, rather than being forced to administer the New ISTEP, passed the Senate Education and Career Committee by a vote of 7-3. It did so with the public support of Governor Mike Pence, whose education advisor, Chad Timmerman, testified on its behalf. It is now headed to the Appropriations Committee, where it will be heard this Thursday morning, February 19th, at 9:00am in room 431 of the Statehouse.
During the hearing, democrat committee members questioned Senator Schneider over the bill’s exclusion of public schools, and asked if it would provide an unfair advantage to voucher schools over public schools. While Senator Schneider explained that accountability measures can be maintained using multiple tests, and stated that he would welcome an amendment to include public schools if that was amenable to them, none was offered. Instead, democrats opposed the bill, preferring that all schools function under the control of the New ISTEP, which has been denounced by public and private schools alike. While at this point, SB470 pertains only to private schools that accept vouchers, we believe it is an important first step, which will pave the way for liberating public and charter schools, as well, from the New ISTEP assessment that binds them.
The fact that Indiana’s School Choice program was rated by the Center for Education Reform as the “second worst in the country on infringing on private school autonomy,” speaks volumes about the need for SB470. Only one-third of Indiana’s private schools (317 out of 969) are currently registered to participate in Indiana’s Choice Scholarship Program, according to a report released by the Friedman Foundation this past November.
Likewise, an American Enterprise Institute (AEI) report released last month, corroborates that a major impediment to private school participation in Indiana’s voucher program is the concern over testing requirements and over-regulation. A full 62% of private school leaders who were surveyed cited “concerns about future regulations” as a major factor in their decision not to participate, while an additional 19 percent cited it as a minor factor. Not surprisingly, the AEI report recommends that Indiana “hold private schools accountable in ways that do not threaten their independence and autonomy…private schools value their autonomy and ability to provide an alternative to public schooling. Regulations that require the adoption of state criterion-referenced tests or state curriculum standards impede their ability to offer alternative educational approaches.”
In short, without providing greater freedom to private voucher schools, the general public is quickly beginning to view vouchers as a vehicle not to increase parental choice, but as a lasso with which the government intends to corral private schools into their one-size fits all system. If Republican lawmakers truly believe in the concept of school choice and local control, schools that accept vouchers must be afforded the same liberty as those participating under the Scholarship Granting Organization (SGO) program.
Please call or email your legislators, Senate Pro Tem David Long, and members of the Senate Appropriations Committee and ask them to support SB470, which puts the word “choice” back into the meaning of “school choice” in Indiana!