Rep. Vernon G. Smith says session’s education bills have a sum negative value

March 2, 2017 Vernon G. Smith

For immediate release:
March 2, 2017

INDIANAPOLIS – State Rep. Vernon G. Smith (D-Gary) said the education bills that have been successful at this halfway point in the 2017 Indiana General Assembly do almost nothing to benefit education.

“There is a lot of rhetoric about all that the General Assembly is doing for education, but it doesn’t add up,” said Dr. Smith, Ranking Democratic member on the House Education Committee.

“For instance, House Bill 1004 expands pre-kindergarten education, but not to many school districts. In fact, the number of counties in this pilot program only increases from five to 10. However, all of the state’s 92 counties need the program. The increase in funding would be $20 million, instead of $10 million.

“Research has shown that to close the achievement gap, early education is a key answer,” explained Dr. Smith.

“They are the building blocks for success and that is why other states have invested in their children. Here in Indiana, the General Assembly is just playing with early education by allowing minimal increases with little funding. The excuse is that we need a pilot program to see if it works. Pre-K education has already been proven that it works. By toying with the issue over several years, thousands of Hoosier children are losing their opportunity to get the needed boost in order to be ready for their school careers and achieve to their fullest potential.

“However, the Senate Republicans don’t even want to invest that much money in public pre-school education,” added Dr. Smith. “In committee last week, they cut back the funding increase to only $3 million, which wouldn’t come close to doubling the size of the program, much less full funding for the state. On top of it, the Senate GOP wants to spend $1 million for special software for a new pilot program for home-schooled preschool children.

“On the House side, Republicans want to greatly expand the use of expensive tuition vouchers for private schools in HB 1004,” said Dr. Smith. “We don’t have money for public schools to expand pre-kindergarten, but there seems to be plenty of tax money available for private schools and homeschoolers. There is something wrong with those Republican priorities.

“There are other bad education bills the Republicans have passed as well,” continued Dr. Smith, an education professor at Indiana University Northwest. “House Bill 1003 was supposed to provide a replacement for the ISTEP tests. Well, it really doesn’t. The bill just remodels what we had in the past. There seems to be this great rush to find a replacement, at great cost I might add. The only ones who benefit from these expensive tests are the businesses developing them to sell to us.

“The Republican plan is called ILEARN, which stands for Indiana’s Learning Evaluation Assessment Readiness Network,” said Dr. Smith. “From an educator’s perspective, that title makes absolutely no sense at all. The ILEARN program is a regurgitation of the failed ISTEP. They are doing the same things over and over again, while expecting new results. That is insanity. Not enough thought has gone into the process and certainly not enough input from those who know education.

“With this new test, teachers will still be forced to teach to the outcomes of tests, not to the intellectual achievement of students,” said Dr. Smith.

“The new test is the Republican committee chairman’s synopsis of what should be done instead of getting input from others. None of us are as smart as all of us. We need to slow the process down and get everyone, especially educators, involved. The best ideas are made better when we are all part of the process. Currently, we are trying to take a square peg and force it into a round hole. We should be taking a holistic approach and do it right, for once.

“Another education bill, House Bill 1005, would take away Indiana voters’ right to choose their State Superintendent of Public Instruction,” mentioned Dr. Smith. “The sitting governor could appoint a political ally who has no teaching experience or any background at all in education.

“Legislative surveys in my district showed that 85 percent of those responding said they wanted to choose who was responsible for education in Indiana, not have a political appointee given the job,” observed Dr. Smith. “That is an indicator of the pulse of communities, because that same feeling was reflected in other legislative districts’ surveys around the state. This bill, which passed the House, takes away the will of the people. It disenfranchises voters and puts the future of Indiana students in the hands of a politician. That’s not right. The issue should be put on the ballot in a referendum and let the people of Indiana decide.

“Lastly, Republicans claim House Bill 1001, the budget bill, increases funding for education,” observed Dr. Smith. “However, the Republican litany of ‘dollars following the student’ actually means state money is taking a one-way, express train from urban and rural schools to wealthy, suburban communities around Indianapolis, where growth in student population has risen. Meanwhile, the state’s poorer school districts struggle to survive.

“In the proposed state budget, private schools continue to get money from state taxpayers at the expense of public schools as vouchers continue to expand like an overfed boa constrictor,” said Dr. Smith. “Private schools, with their uncertified teachers, have not been getting better results than public schools, yet state money continues to flow to them.

“So, yes, we passed a lot of education bills,” concluded Dr. Smith. “But when you evaluate the positive value, the state deserves an F-, so far.”