[r74] Ellspermann Edition: Charters and Solvency (1/28/2011)

Friday, January 28, 2011

Start Date: 1/28/2011 All Day
End Date: 1/28/2011

Charters and Solvency

Rather than share an update on the many bills we are discussing, I am going to focus on two bills which will be moving through the House, but are less understood than bills like text messaging and smoking bans.

The Charter School bill, House Bill 1002, has made it out of committee and will be heard soon.  There are many "myths" about charters and, in particular, this bill.  Let me clarify a few key points.  First, charter schools are public schools.  In Indiana we have traditional public and charter public schools.  Traditional public schools will always serve the vast majority of our Hoosier children and our greatest focus should be to ensure their success.  However, charter public schools allow schools to "reinvent" themselves and provide students and parents with a different learning option.

In Indiana, over two-thirds of the students served in charter schools are either socioeconomically disadvantaged, minority, or are a student with special needs.  In addition, there are nearly 4,000 students on waiting lists for charter schools in primarily urban areas.  There are those who suggest charter schools are low performing.  According to 2010 ISTEP results, when you compare all schools to charter schools, only four of the bottom 50 are charter schools.which had only been in existence for 18 months and serve the less advantaged students.  Charter schools, in this bill, will have even tougher accountability standards than public schools. 

A second myth is that charters leave teachers unrepresented.  HB 1002 does negate the existing contract, if there is one.  However, the charter school teachers may choose to collectively bargain, just are not required to do so. 

A third myth is that charter schools take funding away from public schools.  The money, like all public schools, follows the child.  In most cases, the charter school will already be located in the school district.  Therefore, the money is just moving to another building.  In some cases, the child will transfer to a charter school.much like they would if they moved across town or asked to transfer to another public school as is now possible. 

Finally, there is no attempt to turn Indiana's traditional public schools into all charters.  They currently serve 22,000 students out of a million.  That is 2%.  Even if they were to double, they would still only serve a very small percentage.  I support charter schools because they give public school students, parents, teachers, and administrators the option if they need it.  We should all value that our state is progressive enough to provide us this option.

The Charter School bill, HB 1002, will be discussed potentially during the coming week.  I have heard from many teachers, but would like to hear from more parents.though my survey suggests more than half believe that even our district schools need improvement.  That said, I agree with teachers and administrators that we must be careful not to change "just for change's sake".  The charter school bill will do nothing to our local schools.unless we decide we want to pursue them.

The second bill which passed through the Employment, Labor and Pensions Committee and second reading on the House floor this week was the Unemployment Insurance Trust Fund bill, HB 1450. The Fund is currently in a $2 billion deficit.  The recession accelerated and magnified the deficit.   Two years ago the legislature passed a $400 million per year unemployment tax increase on employers.  They realized last year that enacting this would "shoot employers in the foot" as they tried to survive the recession.  HB 1450 will pay back the $2 billion that the State of Indiana owes, while maintaining the maximum benefit of $390 per week. 

Two fairness issues are also resolved.  First, benefits are based on annualized wages which ensures two people making the same amount of money over a year receive the same benefit.  This didn't happen in the past as the formula favored those who worked seasonally.  We all size our mortgages to our annual wages.  Why should unemployment insurance be different? 

The second fairness issue is in regards to who is eligible.  Unemployment is intended to be the "stop gap" between jobs when an employee is not receiving a paycheck.  This bill closes loopholes so that an individual who takes a voluntary buy-out cannot also draw unemployment, and to make sure that severance packages are counted as "weekly wages". Unemployment eligibility would begin the week after the severance package expires.

 I believe most Hoosiers understand the fairness of both of these changes.  As a result, we are now able to save employers about $100 million per year of the $400 million increase while still providing those Hoosiers who are unemployed nationally competitive benefits and repaying the full $2 billion by 2020.

We did pass out of the House a texting while driving bill, HB 1129.  As parents, we all require that our children don't text and drive.  We know how dangerous taking your eyes off the road and onto a keyboard is.  My own young entrepreneur bill, HB 1251, and Rep. Messmer's economic development tools for local counties, HB 1007, passed unanimously through the Commerce, Small Business and Economic Development Committee.    Both bills offer new tools that will help our local communities attract new businesses and grow existing industry resulting in the jobs we so desperately need.  The voting center bill, already passed in the Senate, was passed through the Elections and Apportionment Committee on which I serve as well.  These bills will have a second hearing and then will be eligible for vote in the House. 

I ask for your continued support and feedback as we, the General Assembly, pursue solving important problems and enacting good public policy for our Hoosier state.policies that support communities large and small.   Know that I continue to use my "loud voice" for southwest Indiana.  It is my privilege to serve you.


Rep. Sue Ellspermann (R-Ferdinand)