Opposition to voucher expansion in Pre-K bill voiced by Rep. Vernon G. Smith

February 7, 2017 Vernon G. Smith

For immediate release:
Feb. 7, 2017

INDIANAPOLIS – State Rep. Vernon G. Smith (D-Gary), ranking Democrat on the Indiana House Education Committee, spoke out strongly today (Feb. 7) against House Republicans using a bill enlarging pre-kindergarten education in Indiana to expand the use of tuition vouchers in the state.

Smith, an Indiana University Northwest education professor, argued against the legislative maneuver during debate on House Bill (HB) 1004, which was approved on third reading.

“Democrats have fought for years to expand Pre-K statewide, only to be shut down by Republicans,” said Smith. “This bill only expands the pilot program to 10 counties, while increasing the expenditure from $10 million to $20 million. That is not enough, but that really isn’t the issue.

“The issue is that the Republicans have brought a Trojan Horse into the House chamber that looks like an expansion of Pre-K, but hidden inside is an expansion of vouchers to further the GOP’s ideological goal of taking state tax money and allowing it to be given to private schools at the expense of public schools,” he added.

“Research shows Pre-K is the answer, yet the Republicans are playing political games as they maneuver to force even more of these controversial vouchers into the educational system,” Smith said.

“There are no real checks or balances on these private schools receiving public tax money. In fact, there is no semblance of the accountability that public schools must face.

“In addition, Republicans argue that Indiana cannot afford statewide expansion to allow every family with a four-year-old to benefit from early education in public schools, yet, according to the fiscal note attached to the bill, the potential added cost of this voucher expansion was considerably greater than the cost of the HB 1004 provisions that directly impact Pre-K,” he noted.

“It is like taking money for hungry children and spending a good portion of it to fund private birthday parties. It just doesn’t make sense and it is not right. HB 1004, in its present form, is a disservice to Indiana’s public schools and Indiana’s families with preschool-age children,” Smith concluded.

Senate Bill 276 also doubles the size of the Pre-K pilot program in Indiana, but does not, at this time, contain an expansion of vouchers. That bill is scheduled to be heard in the Senate Education and Career Development Committee Wednesday.

Indiana already has one of the largest and most expensive voucher programs in the country. It has been expanded from 3,911 students using vouchers in 2011 to 32,686 students in 2016. In recent years, more and more students who use vouchers have not first attended public schools. In addition, the number of suburban students using vouchers has increased to 22 percent of the total. Many of the voucher-accepting schools in the state are private Christian schools.