School Voucher Implementation Off To Bumpy Start

Mikel Livingston, writing for the Lafayette Journal & Courier, has an article about the implementation of the recently passed school voucher law, HB 1003, in the Lafayette area.

I expect they’ll work them out. Parents are calling schools and unable to get all the details about the vouchers. Some of the private schools are concerned about the accreditation requirement. And, of course, a lawsuit has been filed challenging the validity of the voucher law.

I’ve discussed some of this in prior posts, but it’s probably worth mentioning again. I had an exchange with Abdul over at Indiana Barrister, and we had a fundamental disagreement about what public school money is actually for. He had a vision where that money was, in effect, for the benefit of the individual students and, by extension, the student’s parents. For my part, I think we’re using those public funds in an attempt to buy an educated populace. With those very different visions of what the money is for, we naturally reach different conclusions about the desirability of a voucher system.

Under the first view of things (I hesitate to call it the “Abdul” view in case I have not accurately described it), it’s the student’s education & it’s the student’s money. They should be able to spend it how they please. Under my view, the public is attempting to buy an educated populace – not solely out of the goodness of its heart; but because an educated society is more pleasant to live in, easier to manage, and less prone to crime.

In the voucher debate, there is a lot of discussion about the fairness of allowing the student to “choose” their own school and to having a particular amount of money allotted to each student. But, this sort of entitlement model does not address the fairness of taxing, for example, the childless to pay for the education of those who have decided to have kids.

Taxing the entire community to pay for education makes sense only if the entire community has a skin in the game. And they do. A broad base of educated people is beneficial to the entire community. Where the two models diverge is if we set up a system where the entitlement model results in worse education for a substantial portion of the population.

Voucher proponents insist this won’t happen. Quite the reverse, they assure us. Free market pixie dust will result in better schools for everyone. The pressure of competition will make the bad schools improve their product. However, in my opinion, this ignores the fact that a market system only works where one party is able to walk away from the transaction if its cost is too high for the party’s liking. So long as we are committed to universal education, the freedom to walk away is not present.

One of the dirty little secrets of public education is that kids are not widgets that are equally expensive to educate. Some are pretty easy, almost taking care of their own education. Others require constant attention and, what’s worse, through their disruptiveness threaten to make the easier ones more of a challenge. But, it’s a “stitch in time saves nine” scenario. Take care of those kids now, and it’s a bit of a hassle with better behaved kids effectively subsidizing their education. Fail to take care of those kids now, and you’ll be carrying them in your jails and/or unemployment rolls for a long time to come.

I foresee vouchers resulting in a dynamic where the cream gets skimmed off the top by private schools, leaving the public schools with the more difficult students and less money to deal with them. Since no such idle rant about education would be complete without a modest proposal from someone who knows little about educating, I have one. We should try a voucher system available only to those students in the bottom percentages of their schools. These are the ones who aren’t, for one reason or another, thriving in the public school. And, it would also alleviate the concern about the cherry-picking dynamic. There. Problem solved.

Chris Coyle on Unitary County Government

Chris Coyle has a column in the Perry County News on the county executive portion of the Kernan Shephard recommendations for local government restructuring. In the name of efficiency, the report suggests and Gov. Daniels apparently supports, removing the current three member board of county commissioners and replacing it with a single county executive. In addition, that person would appoint officials like the sheriff, clerk, treasurer, auditor, and coroner; currently elected positions.

I agree with Chris that the costs outweigh the efficiencies. Taking an extreme to illustrate the point, there is little doubt that dictatorships are more efficient than democracies; but there is more to government than efficiency. Chris points out a not unlikely scenario: what if you like the sheriff and even the county executive, but the coroner is just awful. Your choices at that point are pretty much to either put up with the poor public official or vote out the whole administration.

Chris went the high road, elaborating his point. I’ll go the low: Boss Hogg was a sole county commissioner.

Rep. Culver wants to fiddle with the State Constitution

Maureen Hayden, writing for CHNI, has an article quoting Rep. Wes Culver as supporting another try at getting a gay marriage ban into the Indiana Constitution.

Conservative state lawmakers say they expect to re-introduce legislation in the next session that would clear the way for a constitutional amendment to define marriage as a union between one man and one woman.

Indiana already has a law that bans gay marriage, but supporters of a constitutional amendment say it would offer protection against court action.

“I’m all for it,” said state Rep. Wes Culver (R-Goshen), co-author of a bill that was blocked by House Democrat leaders when they were in control.

The Indiana Supreme Court already upheld the law in 2005 (under, I believe, specious reasoning having to do with reproduction but not explaining the right of, say, post-menopausal women to marry.) The real urgency these folks are probably facing is that public support for giving gays the same rights as everybody else seems to be steadily on the rise.

It’s always a danger to project your own experience onto the world at large, but I believe polling data supports my doing so in this case. I’ve gone from homophobic to indifferent to supportive of gay rights over the last 20 years. I think the world is headed in that direction; and I wouldn’t be surprised if guys like Rep. Culver see that trend as well.

Either way, I’m not a fan of mucking about with the state Constitution absent some great need. The inclusion of the tax cap legislation, I suppose, has diminished the document as a statement of guiding principles and pushed it down the road to more of a supplemental version of the Indiana Code. Still, we should do what we can to keep soon-to-be obsolete crap out of there. We should avoid sending the signal (any more so than we already do) that we’re an intellectual backwater, hostile to progress, by deliberately injecting discriminatory language into our founding document. Otherwise, we’ll likely reaffirm the notion that we’re just the big middle finger of the South sticking up into the Midwest.

General Assembly Survivor

I’ve never made any secret of the fact that I enjoy crap television; this includes reality TV. One of the mainstays on the Masson TV lineup is Survivor. For those of you who don’t watch, one of the main show dynamic involves initially splitting the contestants into two tribes. For a period of time, the tribes are pitted against each other; the losing tribe forced to send someone home. Eventually, most seasons, the two tribes will be merged together. Then, each week, the new single tribe has to vote someone out.

After the merge, typically what happens, is the members of the old tribe with the most remaining members band together and vote off members of the old tribe with fewer numbers. But, inevitably, when the small tribe is no longer a threat, a faction of the remaining big tribe poaches members of the small tribe to gain an advantage over another faction from the big tribe. The closer the original tribes are in numbers, however, the more tightly they stick together.

I was reminded of this dynamic when reading Jim Shella’s note about how the Republicans in the Indiana Senate are treating the Democrats nicely. There are only 13 Democrats in that chamber compared to 37 Republicans. The Democrats are not even close to being a threat in terms of power and influence. That suggests we might expect to see Republican factions battling each other in that chamber. I wonder if any of those factions will seek to make use of the available Democrats.

Bi-partisan support for Vote Centers

Dorothy Schneider, writing for the Journal & Courier, has an article about the support for vote centers among Lafayette-area lawmakers. Sen. Alting and Reps. Klinker, and Truitt all expressed support for continuing vote centers in Tippecanoe County. The idea for these centers is that you can go anywhere in the county to vote and get a ballot that is appropriate for the precinct in which you reside. So, for example, I have been able to vote downtown instead of having to go back to the voting location closest where I lived.

Tippecanoe County Clerk, Linda Phillips, says that ending the pilot program in the county – set to expire in 2011 absent further legislative action – will cost the county at least $50,000.

In 2009, Gov. Daniels vetoed a bill that would have allowed vote centers. Secretary of State Rokita disagreed with the Governor. In 2010, it got bogged down with a measure that would have allowed more permissive absentee voting.

Update A reader advised me that their understanding of the Governor’s objections in 2009, really didn’t have much to do with vote centers at all, but with some other provisions in the 2009 bill, notably those having to do with provisional voting and the procedures for establishing satellite voting (which is something different from vote centers) locations. So, the likelihood is that the Governor would go along with a clean vote center bill.

Interim Study Committee Information

During the summer and fall, the Indiana General Assembly operates sporadically in the form of interim study committees. If you are interested, you can get information about the interim schedule here.

For example, I see that the regulatory flexibility committee is going to meet tomorrow at 9:30 and receive a report from the IURC on the state of various utility industries in Indiana, the deployment of video services, and cloud computing technology. On September 28, it will meet again and discuss public and private funding sources for 211 services, funding parity for 911 services, and alternative pricing programs for natural gas.

The child support and custody advisory committee will also meet on the 14th, at 1:30, to discuss child support enforcement and the number of people who are in prison for failing to pay support.

Daniels: Debt Is Literally Child-Abuse

Apparently our Governor appeared on the news-like programming of Fox News and said that passing on that debt to future generations is “practicing child abuse in a literal sense.”

First, a note to the headline writer, Gov. Daniels didn’t *compare* debt to child abuse, he said it *is* child abuse. If there was any doubt that perhaps he was just using a metaphor for comparison, use of the word “literal” erases that doubt. Unless the Governor doesn’t know the meaning of the word literal. (For a probably not-safe-for-work take on improper use of the word literally, see David Cross.)

Second, given Gov. Daniels’ challenges with his Family and Social Services Agency which is in charge of real, kids are starving and/or being beaten and/or being neglected type child abuse, he probably does not want to go throwing around the term lightly.

New ID Law Is A Little Silly

Brian Zimmerman, writing for the Palladium-Item, has an article on the new liquor sale ID law which prohibits sale of alcohol to anyone who can’t show you a valid ID. (I’m presuming that’s the gist – the article doesn’t give a code cite or law number, and I’m too lazy to go hunting at the moment.)

This makes sense when you’re carding folks who are under, say, forty. But when you have to card the 70 year old lady who has been coming in to buy ripple from you for the past 15 years, it’s kind of stupid. The problem is that, to make the law flexible enough to eliminate these absurdities, you probably have to trust people with some discretion. And, I think we can all agree that discretion is too dangerous to contemplate when the consequence could be a nineteen year old with beer. The mind recoils at the horror.

Problem Solving Courts

On July 1, 2010, PL 108-2010 (HB 1271-2010) goes into effect. It repeals statutes creating drug courts and re-entry courts in favor of “problem solving” courts by which the General Assembly means:
“a court providing a process for immediate and highly structured judicial intervention for eligible individuals that incorporates the following problem solving concepts:
(1) Enhanced information to improve decision making.
(2) Engaging the community to assist with problem solving.
(3) Collaboration with social service providers and other stakeholders.
(4) Linking participants with community services based on risk and needs.
(5) Participant accountability.
(6) Evaluating the effectiveness of operations continuously.”

Various types of problem solving courts are community court, domestic violence court, drug court, family dependency drug court, mental health court, reentry court, veteran’s court, or other problem solving court certified by the Indiana Judicial Center. (One incidental effect of this legislation that occurs to me by virtue of my previous blog post is that it might expand the universe of “court-related” activities for mandate purposes.) Existing drug or reentry courts are grandfathered in, required to be certified as problem solving courts by the Indiana Judicial Center.

The general idea of problem solving courts, as I understand it, is that traditional forms of punishment are not terribly effective in preventing future crime. In the standard model of crime and punishment, someone convicted of a drug offense goes to jail and is basically told “don’t do it again.” They aren’t monitored very closely during the probation period and, all too often, they do it again; eventually get caught; goes back to jail; and is told “don’t do it again.” Rinse. Repeat. A problem solving court expands the tool box available to judges. Maybe the offender doesn’t have to do so much in the way of jail time, but the offender is monitored closely and has a lot more interaction with the court, coming back maybe every week to report, get tested, whatever. The highly structured rehabilitation efforts yield better results than just warehousing the person for a while before sending them back on the streets to do it again.

HB 1021 – Earned Income Tax Credit as Bankruptcy Exemption

HB 1021 adds the Indiana earned income tax credit as an asset that is exempt in bankruptcy.

I’m glad this bill got amended. Early on, I believe there was a plan afoot to take all of a debtor’s exemptions and make them transferable among categories. For example, you currently get a $15,000 exemption for residential property and $300 in cash. As I understood earlier versions of the bill, if you didn’t use up all of one exemption, you could transfer the remainder to another category. So, if you had no residence, but had $15,300 in cash, you could protect all of that cash from your creditors.

I don’t so much mind that in the bankruptcy context, but a person also gets these exemptions in a post-judgment collection proceeding – meaning that I could have been faced with an attempt to collect a $1,000 judgment; found a guy with $10,000 in his bank account; and been unable to take the $1k out of the account. Such a situation would have made me mad.