State Rep. Vernon Smith

Indiana House Democrats don't support voucher expansion and funding scholarships to private schools

Contributed By:The 411 News

Rep. Vernon Smith says HB 1005 will take money from public schools

Indpls. – House Democrats on the Education Committee, including Ranking Minority Member State Representative Vernon G. Smith (D-Gary) voted against House Bill 1005, which would expand the state’s existing Choice Scholarship Program and establish an Education Scholarship Account (ESA) Program.

Three former state superintendents of education in Indiana wrote a joint letter opposing the Republican plan to expand vouchers. Jennifer McCormick, Glenda Ritz and Suellen Reed Goddard are criticizing the proposals for diverting funding away from traditional public school students.

Rep. Smith said the bill would cost the state $66 million and take approximately $70.2 million in funding away from public schools. Currently, Indiana is now last in the Midwest and 41st in the nation for per pupil funding.

"Public schools like the Gary Community School Corporation are suffering financially because charter and voucher schools have completely taken over the area," Smith said. "What's worse is that there is no concrete evidence that vouchers have improved the success rates of Hoosier students. In fact, some students have fallen behind in subjects like math after switching over. That raises a red flag for me and I don't understand why we continue to add money to a program that has not been proven to work."

If the bill passes, a family of four earning $145,000 per year would be eligible for $5,500 in vouchers for each child.

Rep. Smith said, "For perspective, Indiana's median family income is approximately $57,000 annually." That means half of Indiana's families earn less than $57,000 a year and the other half earn more.

"It has been a practice in the General Assembly that every time we open the door just a little bit, it becomes a floodgate. This Choice Scholarship Program started as a way to assist low-income families struggling to pay for their children's education, but it has quickly turned into a way for middle class families to essentially have a coupon for an education they could already afford. Since 2011, we have steadily drifted away from the original intent of the program and this bill only adds to my worries that we're not looking out for the families who are in most need of support," Rep. Smith said.

Rep. Smith claims there is virtually no oversight when it comes to spending ESA money, which would award families thousands of dollars per year.

He said, "Many states have had accountability issues with the introduction of funding programs like the Education Scholarship Account. I'm very concerned that without proper oversight, we will see parents take advantage of this system and use the ESA like a debit card. In states like Arizona, it's been found that accounts like the ESA have been used to fund college-savings accounts.

"The way this bill is written, Hoosier families could use this money to buy a brand new flat screen TV. They say the State Treasurer will be responsible for overseeing the use of these funds, but in reality, I don't see how that will play out successfully.

"Year after year, we continue to witness Republicans break down funding for our traditional public schools into smaller and smaller pieces. When these schools are already struggling to get adequate funding, I would hate to see this become another drain to their already limited resources."

The bill passed the House with a vote of 61 Republican over 36 Democrats opposed. The other Democrats serving on the House Education Committee this year are: State Representatives Tonya Pfaff (D-Terre Haute), Ed DeLaney (D-Indianapolis) and Sheila Klinker (D-Lafayette).

Story Posted:02/17/2021

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