Friday, December 19, 2014

Notes from a First Year Teacher

I come home tired every night.

I thought it would be a breeze to teach 7th graders. They would be wowed by my professor-ness and would behave respectfully to me and to the rest of the students. They would also always raise their hand to talk and do all of their homework diligently so they can become the best citizen of Goshen possible…..

I come home tired every night.

Kenny Nolan swooned “I like dreamin’” in 1977 in regards to a lover.

In 2014 I dream of Goshen Middle School’s Points of Pride - responsibility, respect, productivity, courage, and integrity!

So what should I expect?


With this tiredness and the first year jitters my awe and admiration for the teachers of this world has magnified!

In Ernst Bloch’s The Principle of Hope he asks “Who are we? Where do we come from? Where are we going? What are we waiting for? What awaits us?” and I often ask that while waiting for my 12 year old scientists in front of my door at room 204. I see some so jovial because they are alive and social. But I also see those who don’t want to learn and have no desire to be in my class let alone school. They think school is miserable and wretched AND a social experiment….. woe is them….. woe is me…..

How do I approach apathy when talking about the earth’s layers - the lithosphere, aesthenosphere, mesosphere, outer core and inner core just doesn’t spur their inner fire?

To me it is incredibly flabbergasting with the knowledge that the earth is 4.5 billion years old, it has a core that is made of solid iron that is hotter than the surface of the sun!

I come home tired every night.

Tomorrow I’m going to start off class with something called a Bell Question and ask them to think about what the famous conservationist Aldo Leopold meant in his book Round River where he states “The last word in ignorance is the man who says of an animal or plant, "What good is it?" If the land mechanism as a whole is good, then every part is good, whether we understand it or not. If the biota, in the course of aeons, has built something we like but do not understand, then who but a fool would discard seemingly useless parts? To keep every cog and wheel is the first precaution of intelligent tinkering.” I want them to think about their interconnectedness in all their arenas - which includes learning about earth science!

How do I teach this sustainability, care, stewardship, conservation that Dr. Leopold elaborates in his book or how do I teach just plain plate tectonics which is mandated by the state board of education to a student whose goal in life is to become a couch potato?? My wife talks a lot about where our foundation comes from is from their home life - their environment, their influence.

At Goshen Middle School, we utilize focus questions that tries to inspire them to think a little deeper, to grow beyond the same old/same old, to have “enduring understanding” - maybe that can instill the safeguarding that is needed by all citizens.

But Wow! Their excitement to be alive and with friends is exuberating! How do I appease my desire to teach and offer them opportunity to be super cool in front of their peers?

These past 3 months of teaching have been the most educational for me in the past I don’t know how long! What have I learned?
  • Psychology of 7th graders
  • Sociology of 7th graders
  • Anthropology of 7th graders
  • Anthropology of an administration
  • Politics of a school and
  • Psychology of myself (what I can or cannot do with 150 students!)
One of the main components that I never thought of in the past about teaching was classroom management and organization of ideas to enhance classroom management!

This experience makes me truly feel that all environmental educators must educate themselves about the ways of thinking like a teacher and maybe become a classroom teacher just for a brief moment to understand standard constraints, windows of curriculum, know that time is incredibly tight as well as finances, and that the reason why a teacher doesn’t do something you suggest is not because they don’t care for the environment – but a plethora of other reasons that hamper the possibilities of field trips but does not dampen the possibilities of motivating future scientists that can be the best citizens possible!

So an enormous question Environmental Education Association of Indiana needs to ask is how do we assist a teacher that is caught in standards based, financially strapped, time warped tough scenario? Help them with grants? Help them with curriculum? Help them on site more? I now understand and still don’t know how to answer those questions.


A student the other day asked me “is it true that it’s better to be cool than smart?” And I told him “the coolest person is the smartest in my opinion! One that thinks!”

A mother told me that she wanted to thank me because this is the first time her minority heritage daughter says she likes science!

I win!

Daily I must breathe so I can get oxygen to my brain and then I must think about how my desire for this year was to challenge myself in edu-taining seventh graders and helping excite them about science!

Time for a nap because tomorrow - in class - I save the world!

This is a letter from Paul Steury who used to be a very popular and successful naturalist at Merry Lea Envirormental Center for almost 10 years. It is interesting to see his impressions today, as a first year teacher in a Goshen, Indiana Middle School.


Thursday, December 18, 2014

Vic’s Statehouse Notes #188 – December 18, 2014

Dear Friends,

Governor Pence in announcing his legislative agenda on December 4th seemingly gave a blank check to private school tuition increases which would all be paid for by the taxpayers.

Did he really mean to say that, or is a “correction” or “clarification” soon to come?

His agenda document calls for “removing the cap on Choice Scholarships” after noting that “On average, public charter and voucher schools are funded at lower levels than traditional public schools.”

Removing the $4800 cap on Choice Scholarships will help private school parents pay less out of pocket for the balance of the tuition, but it won’t help voucher schools get more funding unless the voucher schools raise their tuition. Apparently the Governor’s plan would allow whatever tuition increases the voucher schools want and the taxpayers would pay for all of it. No more caps!

I am told that Brebeuf, one of the voucher schools, charges tuition of $17,000 per student. Does the Governor think that taxpayers should pay for whatever tuition the private school may ask?

At state universities, tuition is set by the board of each institution, but legislators have never been asked to raise state funding to cover whatever the board asks. Does Governor Pence really want legislators to do so for K-12 private schools?

Let your legislators know you have a problem with the Governor’s blank check for funding private schools.

Fiscal Cost of Removing the Cap

The Office of the Governor has estimated the fiscal cost of lifting the cap on voucher payments as $3.5 million, according to a report in the Indianapolis Star.

Legislators should question this surprisingly low fiscal cost estimate. Using the Governor’s figure of 30,000 vouchers for this current school year, his $3.5 million estimate would mean an increase of only $115 per voucher. It is highly unlikely that private school parents are only averaging $115 as their share of the private school charges. That figure is less than public school parents pay for textbook rental.

In addition, the $3.5 cost estimate seems to completely underestimate the true cost of paying whatever the private schools ask in increased tuition. Is the Governor going to add a regulation saying that private schools may not raise their tuition to take inappropriate advantage of the Governor’s generosity?

Is this leading to price controls from the Governor on private school tuition increases?

Fiscal Costs of the Total Voucher Program

The voucher program in its first two years (2011-12 and 2012-13) had no fiscal cost to the state, even though the funds from the start have hurt public schools by diverting the money to private schools. Overall, the voucher payments were deliberately held below the costs of public school payments to guarantee an overall savings. A savings of about $4 million was redistributed to all public schools in those first two years.

Governor Pence’s 2013 voucher expansion turned a savings into a new fiscal cost. He expanded the eligibility list to the point that about 40% of all private school vouchers in 2013-14 went to students who had always been in private school. This move ended the savings and produced an overall $15.7 million new fiscal cost to the taxpayers.

Under Governor Pence, vouchers were no longer about facilitating a choice. They were about subsidizing private school parents to help the private and religious schools boost enrollment.

Even taking the Governor’s estimate at face value, his 2015 agenda would escalate the proven, most conservative listing of fiscal costs of the voucher program to $19.2 million. This is the sum of the $3.5 million for removing the caps plus the $15.7 million fiscal cost for 2013-14 reported in the most recent financial report on Choice Scholarships from the IDOE Division of Finance in June, 2014.
At $19.2 million, this financial benefit for private school parents now gets more state dollars than:
  • Summer school - $18.4 million per year
  • Gifted and talented programs - $12.6 Million per year
  • Preschool pilot scholarships - $10 million per year
  • Alternative public schools - $6.1 million per year
  • Non-English Speaking Program - $5 million per year
  • Senator Ford Technology program - $3.1 million per year
  • Professional Development - $0 per year (funding ended in 2011 budget)
Let your legislators know that you disagree with the idea of prioritizing more money for private school vouchers over all the other needs of the one million plus public school students. It just doesn’t make sense.

Governor Pence Has Thrown Governor Daniels’ Voucher Program Under the Bus

Governor Daniels’ gave a speech at Harvard in November, 2012 saying how Indiana created the voucher program the right way. “We said to the public schools, you get first shot!” he said. “If you do a good job they’re not going to want to leave. “ The Daniels’ program focused on giving parents a choice and on saving the state money.

Governor Pence when he became Governor in 2013 quickly changed the focus to helping private school parents pay for a choice they had already made. He passed a voucher expansion in the 2013 session creating four pathways to become eligible for a voucher when students had never attended a private school. It was no longer about choice. It was about subsidizing private school parents.

In 2013-14, about 40% of the 19, 000 vouchers were for students who had never attended a public school first and therefore were a new fiscal cost to the state. Any savings were wiped out, and the state was left with a new fiscal cost of $15.7 million. The distribution of $4 million in savings back to school districts which the Daniels’ program had bragged about for the first two years suddenly ended in under Governor Pence.

Contact your legislators now to let them know you disagree with this trend of sending more and more millions to private school parents when it is not even clear that there is enough money in the new budget to correct the shortages for public schools that have become so apparent after the paltry 1% increase in the current year, well below the cost of living.

Please keep up your great support of public schools!

Best wishes,

Vic Smith

“Vic’s Statehouse Notes” and ICPE received one of three Excellence in Media Awards presented by Delta Kappa Gamma Society International, an organization of over 85,000 women educators in seventeen countries. The award was presented on July 30, 2014 during the Delta Kappa Gamma International Convention held in Indianapolis. Thank you Delta Kappa Gamma!

ICPE has worked since 2011 to promote public education in the Statehouse and oppose the privatization of schools. We need your membership to help support the ICPE lobbying efforts. Joel Hand will again be our ICPE lobbyist in the Statehouse. Many have renewed their memberships already, and we thank you! If you have not done so since July 1, the start of our new membership year, we urge you to renew now.

We must raise additional funds for the 2015 session, which begins on January 6th. We need additional members and additional donations. We need your help and the help of your colleagues who support public education! Please pass the word!

Go to for membership and renewal information and for full information on ICPE efforts on behalf of public education. Thanks!

Some readers have asked about my background in Indiana public schools. Thanks for asking! Here is a brief bio:

I am a lifelong Hoosier and began teaching in 1969. I served as a social studies teacher, curriculum developer, state research and evaluation consultant, state social studies consultant, district social studies supervisor, assistant principal, principal, educational association staff member, and adjunct university professor. I worked for Garrett-Keyser-Butler Schools, the Indiana University Social Studies Development Center, the Indiana Department of Education, the Indianapolis Public Schools, IUPUI, and the Indiana Urban Schools Association, from which I retired as Associate Director in 2009. I hold three degrees: B.A. in Ed., Ball State University, 1969; M.S. in Ed., Indiana University, 1972; and Ed.D., Indiana University, 1977, along with a Teacher’s Life License and a Superintendent’s License, 1998. In 2013 I was honored to receive a Distinguished Alumni Award from the IU School of Education, and in 2014 I was honored to be named to the Teacher Education Hall of Fame by the Association for Teacher Education – Indiana.


Friday, December 12, 2014

Who wants those kids?

by Anne Duff

I see it coming. Universal vouchers. Competition among schools. Only the best will survive. Those schools that can’t make the grade will be closed. But what will happen to those students? Those students who contribute to the schools who receive “As” will be persuaded to stay at those schools…at least until they do poorly on a test or their attendance drops. But imagine those students who have special needs – those moderately and severely disabled students who are not on a diploma track but whose lack of graduation still counts against a school when they only receive a certificate of attendance. Who wants those kids? Or what about those English Language Learners who come to this country midyear and know no English but are required to take the ISTEP test only a few months later and have their scores averaged in with the rest for those schools letter grades? Who wants those kids? And those same students with their moderate and severe disabilities – let’s not forget that they still have to take the test…it doesn’t matter that they have never taken the classes that prepare them for the tests…and that they aren’t on a diploma track…they still test and have it count. Who wants that?

As a mother of 3 children, I have become acutely aware that stability has been one of the best things for my children. They don’t like change. They like the comfort of being with teachers they have grown to love, thrive on the long lasting friendships with children they’ve known since the age of 3, and enjoy the traditions year after year in the school they’ve attended since they were very young. But it seems our legislators have decided this wasn’t meant for all children. Those children who need stability the most will be moving from school to school to school because, frankly, who wants them? If competition and good letter grades keep a school open, and our new “universal voucher system” can pick and choose the most desirable students, as can our vouchers schools currently, then what will happen to those children who need extra help, who can’t speak English, who will never pass ISTEP, who will never receive a diploma? What ever happened to their constitutional right? “…provide, by law, for a general and uniform system of Common Schools, wherein tuition shall be without charge, and equally open to all.”

Saturday, November 29, 2014

The Educational Delusional Scheme: Guest Post

A guest post by Dr. Denise Gordon
I write this short essay to disclose what is happening within my own science classroom, I write to expose the demeaning work environment that I and my fellow colleagues must endure, and I write to give purpose to my years of acquiring the necessary skills and knowledge in teaching science for the secondary student. I am not a failure; however, by the Texas STAAR standard assessment test, I am since this past year I had a 32% failure rate from my 8th grade students in April, 2014. The year before, my students had an 82% passing rate.

What happened in one school year? It does not matter that 2/3 of the student population speaks Spanish in their home. It does not matter their reading capability could be on a 4th grade level. It does not matter homework never gets turned in and parent phone calls bring little results. What does matter was that my students were required to develop a yearlong research project by stating a problem, thinking of a solution, designing the experimental set up, collecting the required data, and formulating a conclusion. Some of the projects were good enough to enter into the regional science fair. From a selection of thirty-five projects, twenty-four were sent to the regional science fair. Some of these projects won ribbons and a chance to go to the state science fair competition. Five of my students were invited to participate in the elite Broadcom Master Science Competition. No other 8th grader in my school district achieved this accomplishment. Other yearlong projects involved entering the Future City Competition sponsored by the IEEE. My eighth graders had seven teams to compete and three came back with special awards. Another science competition for secondary students is eCybermission sponsored by the NSTA and the U.S. Army. My only team of girls who competed in this program won first place for the entire southern region of the eCybermission Competition. Did any of my students get a thank you or congratulations from our school principal or the district about their science achievements? Sadly, the answer is a no. All I got was a call into the principal’s office at the end of the school year for the purpose of being pulled from teaching the 8th grade for the next school year due to my high failure rate on the state test. My students and I did receive two thank you letters from two community partnerships. The Potters Water Action Group, represented by Richard Wukich and Steve Carpenter were thankful for our educational brochure that my students helped design for their water filtration project. Krista Dunham, Project Director of Special Olympics in Fort Worth, sent a thank you to my students for donating the soap box derby race money that my students organized and who built three scrap box cars for this worthy affair.

I am now being monitored on a weekly basis within my 6th grade classes and their posted grades. I am required to have [no higher than] a 15% failure rate. All assignments must be pulled from the district’s online teaching schedule; therefore, no soap box races or water brochures this year. I am not allowed to take any of my students off campus for data collecting. Student project development does not flow well in the district school calendar, so I am being questioned by the principal about my scientific teaching philosophy. Action science with real world data is not on the district’s curriculum website. It does not matter that I have a Ph.D. in curriculum development. I must teach to the test since every three weeks all students will be taking a mandated district test. This means all teachers must review for the test, students take the test, and then we go over the test. That is three days out of fifteen teaching days dedicated to a test every three weeks.

Testing and retesting with documented lesson plans from the scheduled curriculum is what the district wants, but is it what the students need really to enjoy science? Our test scores are posted online and evaluated by the administration. Our performance on these tests weighs heavily into our yearly professional evaluation. I have been placed on a “growth plan” due to the fact that I teach what my students should know rather than what the district has posted. I am somewhat a rebel or just set in my ways; however, this growth plan gives the new principal her leverage to remove me from this school. If I do not meet her standards on the growth plan at the end of the year, then I must be relocated to another school. I teach my students math skills, writing skills, and research skills. I document this growth instead of monitoring their district test scores. I have been ordered to submit weekly announcements to the parent newsletter, but my submissions are deleted by the principal. I have been ordered to attend professional development at the level three tier within our district, but there is no level three offered because level three does not exist. I have been documented that 100% of my students do not understand my lessons when I teach because I use “big” words. The 100% came from asking two or three students in the classroom by the principal when she did her bimonthly walk throughs. I have been pulled out of teaching class to be reprimanded on my poor teaching practices rather than wait for my planning time. I must lower my standards and give less work if I am to maintain a 15% failure rate [or lower]. Is this what the parents want? Will this prepare the students for high school?

I can no longer incorporate the arts within my assignments since my activities do not come from the district’s website. The current push for STEM should be the banner to wave inside my classroom since I have been a secondary science teacher for the past thirty years; however, I could not and we should not trade the arts and music for pure technical science and math course work. Creative problem solving with visual displays or performing arts can be demonstrated instead of just technology and engineering skills. Language arts would implement the importance of writing and research instead of just writing a basic lab report. When a student is allowed to decide on what he/she would like to study for their research project so many necessary skills are required. The student must speak and “sell” their project by presenting to outside judges at the regional science fair, designing skills are needed for the backboard, mathematical and technological skills are used for the data collection. The actual meaning of “science” comes from the Latin verb, scire, “to know” via knowledge gained by a study or a particular branch of study (Ayto, 1990). To know encompasses all topics of interest and that is why I teach science bringing in all areas of skills and interests for the student to develop. This is not found on the district curriculum website. I want the student to be creative, to write, to sing, to explore, to draw, to decipher, and to act in order to gain “knowledge” through the sciences.

I firmly believe students should have a choice in their own curriculum of study, final assessment should come from a variety of skills displaying the student’s individual growth, and what is taught inside the classroom should be applied to help the local community and school partnerships. My principal has cut my fifteen year commitment with community partnerships for the Fort Worth Botanic Gardens, Botanical Research Institute of Texas, and the Fort Worth Science & History Museum by not approving any of my bus requests. Action science does not exist. Science education lies only in the classroom and on the district’s website. This is the educational delusion I must work in; a science classroom that is data driven to the point of paralysis and where students no longer experience real world problem solving projects. Retirement is my ticket out of this madness, but what will be the student’s ticket out?

Saturday, November 22, 2014

NEIFPE 2014 Survey Summary

Poll finds value in public schools

printed in the Fort Wayne Journal-Gazette, December 1, 2014

by Phyllis Bush
with Michelle Bandor,  Judith Beineke, Susie Berry, Stu Bloom, Ron Crosby, Anne Duff, Lucy Hess, Terry Springer

Policy makers, politicians and the media love data, so the Northeast Indiana Friends of Public Education (NEIFPE) decided to create a survey directed at the people whose lives are affected by the recent and ongoing education reforms. The goal was to gather data from parents, from grandparents, from taxpayers, and from the community to learn what people really think.

NEIFPE spent a great deal of time constructing the questions so as not to bias the answers. We purposefully left a place for comments after most of the questions so that respondents could clarify their responses if they wished. After reading 2,121 comments, we realized that people had a great deal to say and that they wanted their thoughts to be known.

A brief summary of the responses we received.

The majority of respondents were taxpayers (87%), public school employees (50%), and parents and grandparents of public school students (46%). They are major stakeholders in public education. We realize this is not a scientific survey; however, we believe that these respondents, particularly educators and parents, offer a significant voice not usually heard by policy makers.

The majority of respondents oppose the current policies governing schools. Their responses stress the lack of fairness in the way public schools are funded and evaluated in comparison with charter and voucher-accepting schools. The majority (86%) emphatically stated that charter schools and voucher-accepting schools receiving tax revenues should be held to the same standards as traditional public schools to help level the playing field; 86% oppose the A-F grading of schools; 97% said test scores are an inaccurate way to evaluate schools, teachers, and students; 96% felt that if private and charter schools receive tax dollars, they need to accept all students.

As one respondent commented, “Public schools should be funded by public dollars. Any other education system, whether it be charter, private, or home schooled, should be funded by the people that use that system.”

Other questions that elicited strong reactions focused on evaluation of schools and teachers using standardized tests. Since the State Board of Education recently released the school letter grades, these questions seem particularly significant. Respondents concluded that standardized test scores are inadequate measures and reflect a school’s demographics rather than a school’s quality or success. In addition, respondents said that such evaluations are both “demoralizing and demeaning.”

When answering the question, “As a taxpayer/voter, what do you expect of the schools in your community,” this comment summarizes the thoughts of the majority of the respondents about public schools.

“I expect the schools to prepare our children to live, work in, and enjoy our world, and to understand their role in being a citizen in our democracy --their rights and privileges of having a voice, and using it, through communicating with and questioning elected officials and voting to choose those officials.”

We learned:
  • The community cares about the quality of the public schools
  • Children and schools cannot be accurately evaluated by only test scores
  • Children’s growth, creativity, and knowledge are being restricted due to the emphasis on high-stakes tests.
  • All schools that receive tax dollars should be held to the same guidelines and accountability.
To see the complete survey, please visit


Tuesday, November 18, 2014

NEIFPE 2014 Survey Results

Decisions by law makers and policy makers affect the success and failure of local public schools yet often they don't take time to listen to parents, teachers or community members. Our 2014 Public Education Survey was an opportunity for respondents to express their opinions about some of the pressing issues facing local, state and national public schools.

The survey ran from October 5th through October 25th, 2014. Results can be accessed through the links below. All links are to pdf files. All comments are unedited.



NEIFPE Survey Results. Bar graphs for all survey questions except those which were open ended.


Responses to the question: What is the highest level of school you have completed or the highest degree you have received? Answer: Skilled trades apprenticeship or other post-secondary education (please specify). Click here to see the specified answers.

Responses to the question: How are you involved with public education (choose as many as are appropriate)? Answer: Other (please specify). Click here to see the specified answers

Comments for the following questions

1. Are American public schools today...

2. Are your local public schools...

3. Should tax dollars support private (including parochial) education?

4. Do you agree charter and voucher-accepting schools should be held to the same standards as traditional public schools?

5. If charter and private (including parochial) schools accept tax dollars, should they be required to accept all students including students with special needs, English Language Learners, and children of all faiths?

6. Indiana spends nearly 50 million dollars every year on high-stakes testing. Do you think standardized test scores are an adequate measure of a child's learning?

7. Do you think standardized test scores should be the primary factor in evaluating schools, teachers, and students?

8. State law mandates that all public and voucher receiving schools receive a letter grade based primarily on standardized test scores. Do you think your neighborhood schools should receive a letter grade?

9. Have any programs been cut or minimized in your neighborhood school that you want to see restored?

10a. As a taxpayer/voter, what do you expect of the schools in your community?

10b. As a teacher, what do you think is the most important thing for you to teach and for your students to learn?

10c. As a parent, what do you hope your children will learn by the time they have finished school?

11. Additional Comments


Wednesday, October 29, 2014

Vic’s Election Notes on Education #24– October 29, 2014

Dear Friends,

Leaders of the Republican Supermajority who underfunded public education in the 2013 budget are sounding somewhat defensive as they try to entice voters who support public education to stay in their camp. Speaker Bosma on October 14th listed his first education platform plank as: “Increase base funding for K-12 education,” but he wouldn’t say by how much.

The 2013 budget he helped create gave public education only a 1% increase for the current school year, 2014-15. Glenda Ritz has said public schools need a 3% increase in the 2015 budget. The voters are making up their minds.

To get voter approval, Speaker Bosma apparently felt the need to say public school funding would be increased, but he didn’t make a firm dollar commitment to do better than the 2013 budget. Will the voters notice?

[Please note: Indiana Code 3-14-1-17 says that government employees including public school employees may not “use the property of the employee’s government employer to” support the “election or defeat of a candidate” and may not distribute this message “on the government employer’s real property during regular working hours.” Ironically, the law does not prevent private school employees from using computers purchased with public voucher money to distribute campaign materials. Private schools now financed in part by public voucher dollars have retained all rights under Indiana’s voucher laws to engage in partisan political campaigns.]

Two Defenses for Low Public School Budgets

Republican leaders offer two defenses for the historically low public school funding they provided in the last budget, the lowest increases we have ever seen when there was a revenue surplus and no recession.

Both defenses discussed below are flawed. Voters should instead vote for candidates who genuinely support public education and want to make public school funding a priority.

The Republican leadership had the revenue available in 2013 but simply didn’t want to give it to public schools. Their actions gave an edge to private schools in the newly created marketplace of schools in which public and private schools compete.

It is as if they are telling parents: If you don’t like the cutbacks or class sizes at your child’s public school, just pick a private school.

Glenda Ritz has called for a 3% funding increase, far better than the 1% of the current year. We need to elect legislators who back her call to put a priority on funding for public schools.

Defense #1: “Indiana passed the largest budget in the history of Indiana for education two years ago.”

This was a quote from Representative Tim Brown, Chairman of the House Ways and Means at a legislative breakfast reported by the Montgomery County Journal Review in an online article by Bob Cox posted on October 20th.

This statement sounds good, but think about it for a moment.

In years prior to the Great Recession, the public school budget was the largest in Indiana history every time. That was hardly news because the public schools needed at least a cost of living increase each year.

Then came the Great Recession and the state of Indiana could not fund the budget promised to the schools in June of 2009. In December of 2009, the school budget was cut by $300 million.

Here is the budget history for Indiana for education for the last ten years, which I copied right off the school funding formula summary page for each budget:

2005 BUDGET:
FY 2006..................................$5.94 Billion
FY 2007..................................$6.02 Billion
2007 BUDGET:
FY 2008..................................$6.27 Billion
FY 2009..................................$6.48 Billion *
2009 BUDGET: (June 2009 during the Great Recession)
FY 2010..................................$6.55 Billion **
FY 2011..................................$6.57 Billion **
2011 BUDGET: (April 2011 during the Great Recession)
FY 2012..................................$6.28 Billion
FY 2013..................................$6.34 Billion ***
2013 BUDGET:
FY 2014..................................$6.62 Billion +2.0%
FY 2015..................................$6.69 Billion +1.0%
*included Federal stimulus/stabilization funding of $.61 Billion
**reduced by $.30 Billion in Dec. 2009 due to revenue shortfall and by $.327 Billion during 2010-11
***adding the full day kindergarten line item to the formula during the 2013 General Assembly raised the actual FY2013 base expenditures to $6.49B.

Of course, Representative Brown is correct in saying the last budget was the highest in history. The $6.69 Billion for the current 2014-15 school year was indeed higher than the $6.57 Billion budgeted for 2010-11 which never happened. That budget was the one cut by $300 million in December 2009, and it took until the 2013 budget to finally surpass $6.57 Billion.

Legislators had the revenue, though, to do so much more for public school funding in 2013. They could have given public schools more than a 1% increase. They could have given them at least a cost of living increase, but they didn’t.

Any claims to the historical greatest of the last education budget should be put into the context of these numbers showing a paltry 1% increase.

Defense #2: “Most of the increase has been directed to administration of the schools. We seem to be adding administrators instead of passing the money to teachers and students.”

This was a quote from Senator Phil Boots in the same October 20th article. Senator Boots is running for reelection against Bob Burkett in Senate District 23. Then he added: “I think we will be looking at ways to better control allocation of state education funds.”

Senator Boots, who turned from hero to goat in the eyes of public school advocates by switching his 2011 no vote on vouchers to a yes vote on voucher expansion in 2013, is resorting to the “Dollars to the Classroom” arguments pioneered by Governor Daniels in 2006. This ploy was used make it look like the spending decisions of local administrators were the problem rather than the lack of state funding. If they would only restrict their spending to classroom dollars, there would be enough, Governor Daniels kept saying.

There is no evidence for the assertions of Senator Boots that local school officials are spending poorly. Representative Brown at the same meeting was quoted to say, “a recent study from Ball State University suggested the increase was directed by local school boards to administrators and not into the classroom.” This claim put Ball State professor and former IAPSS executive director John Ellis into action. He knew that no one at Ball State had even read such information, let alone conducted a study. His complaint resulted in a correction being posted that this information came from a study by Al Hubbard, not by Ball State.

Al Hubbard is a strong supporter of vouchers and school privatization.

The “Dollars to the Classroom” ploy is being used by at least two candidates in southern Indiana who are running their first campaigns. What else do you say to parents when you don’t want to say you support more money for public education?

Republican Holli Sullivan, an incumbent appointed mid-term to House District 78, is running against Democrat Stephen Melcher on the platform of “Dollars to the Classroom.”

Also, Erin Houchin, running against incumbent Senator Richard Young in Senate District 47, says on her Facebook page that she will “invest in education by directing more dollars to the classroom.” By using this phrase, she is saying she does not think the budgets for public schools are too small, but rather the schools are misdirecting the funding.

Try telling the cash-strapped districts of Washington, Harrison, Orange, Crawford and Perry County in Senate District 47 that they have enough money but they are just spending it on the wrong things.

The “Dollars to the Classroom” program of Governor Daniels was narrowly passed into law in 2006 and resulted in burdensome annual reports using a flawed system sorting all school expenditures into either classroom dollars or overhead dollars. Its flaws include listing payments for teacher pensions and for classroom construction as non-classroom overhead. Since 2006, the only use of this information has been for fodder during election campaigns.

Ironically, the whole purpose of the program was to second-guess the decisions of local school officials, contradicting Erin Houchin’s second point on her education agenda: “Maintain local control of our schools and curriculum.” If she is successful on her first point, local control will take another beating. This antagonism to local control is also found in Senator Boots’ quote above when he said: “I think we will be looking at ways to better control allocation of state education funds.”

This argument does not sit well with frustrated local school administrators who have been forced to cut programs to balance tight or declining budgets since 2009. It’s easy for Senator Boots to charge that local administrators are making poor spending decisions, and it is difficult for local administrators to refute the charge without getting into the weeds of complex budgets.

The fiendish aspect of the ploy for the supermajority is that they can pass the buck and get parents and voters to blame local administrators for public school budget cuts when in reality the fault lies squarely on the General Assembly putting a scant 1% increase into public schools this year, far less than the cost of living.

Voters should not be fooled by these flawed justifications for low public school funding. Voters should vote for candidates who most strongly and genuinely support public education.

Actively Support Public Education Candidates Now for the November 4th Election

The candidates in 51 House Districts who best support public education were detailed in “Vic’s Election Notes #21.” In 51 House races, public school advocates can make a difference.

The candidates in 15 Senate Districts who best support public education were detailed in “Vic’s Election Notes #22.” In 15 Senate races, public school advocates can make a difference.

If you need another copy of these lists, please feel free to email me.

I urge all public school advocates to do as much as they can to talk with neighbors, friends and colleagues in the last week of the campaign to lift the level of support for public education in the next General Assembly. The public school students of Indiana need your active support.

Thanks for working to support public education!

Best wishes,

Vic Smith

There is no link between “Vic’s Election Notes on Education” and any organization. Please contact me at to add an email address or to remove an address from the distribution list.

Some readers have asked about my background in Indiana public schools. Thanks for asking! Here is a brief bio:

I am a lifelong Hoosier and began teaching in 1969. I served as a social studies teacher, curriculum developer, state research and evaluation consultant, state social studies consultant, district social studies supervisor, assistant principal, principal, educational association staff member, and adjunct university professor. I worked for Garrett-Keyser-Butler Schools, the Indiana University Social Studies Development Center, the Indiana Department of Education, the Indianapolis Public Schools, IUPUI, and the Indiana Urban Schools Association, from which I retired as Associate Director in 2009. I hold three degrees: B.A. in Ed., Ball State University, 1969; M.S. in Ed., Indiana University, 1972; and Ed.D., Indiana University, 1977, along with a Teacher’s Life License and a Superintendent’s License, 1998.