prek debate

A key preschool proposal has moved closer to becoming law, but House Republicans and Democrats aren’t happy vouchers would be part of the deal

PHOTO: Meghan Mangrum

Although some Republican lawmakers said they were conflicted, a key preschool proposal — which includes controversial voucher provisions — passed the full House today.

House Bill 1004 would expand the state’s preschool program from five to 10 counties and loosen income requirements to allow more families to participate. Preschool providers could also apply for grants — which would be matched by local philanthropies — to establish programs or expand existing ones.

The part of the bill some legislators took issue with would let families who get a state preschool scholarship also receive a voucher for kindergarten, meaning they could access the state’s taxpayer-funded voucher program sooner than rules currently allow.

Rep. Wendy McNamara, R-Mount Vernon, said she’s consistently voted against bills that would expand Indiana’s voucher program, and this bill ties her hands by putting vouchers right alongside preschool. She ultimately voted for the bill, but she said if the voucher language came back to the House for a final vote at the end of session, she might change her mind.

“The way this particular bill is written is forcing me to make a choice between changing the lives of kids in exponential ways and between something that I have consistently voted against since the first day I’ve been in office,” McNamara said. “I’m going to support this bill unenthusiastically.”

Rep. Ed DeLaney, D-Indianapolis, refused to vote for the bill, calling it “inconceivable” that he would end up voting against preschool. DeLaney said the bill, aside from the voucher pieces, just doesn’t go far enough, which is misleading to the state and angers constituents.

“We pretend it’s a statewide program and it’s not,” DeLaney said today. “We ask taxpayers across the state to pay for a program for some people in five or 10 counties.”

McNamara and a few other Republicans who spoke today voted for an amendment offered earlier this week by Rep. Vernon Smith, D-Gary, that would have removed the voucher language from the bill. The amendment failed.

“We just start muddying the waters,” said Rep. Kevin Mahan, R-Hartford City, who voted for the amendment to remove vouchers from the bill. “…I have had a handful of people ask me to support vouchers, and I have had thousands ask me to support early childhood education.”

Indiana began its statewide preschool program in 2014, setting aside $10 million per year for low-income families to spend at preschool providers that met safety standards and offered programs that combined academics and child care. The two-year pilot served just five of the state’s 92 counties — Allen, Jackson, Lake, Marion and Vanderburgh.

The counties were chosen based, in part, on how ready they were to start a preschool program, as well as factors that made them “geographically diverse and represent urban and rural areas,” according to a 2015 state report.

The bill passed the House 61-34. It next heads to the Senate, where committee leaders will decide whether to give it a hearing. The Senate’s preschool bill is still awaiting a committee vote.


Aurora’s superintendent will get a contract extension

Aurora Public Schools Superintendent Rico Munn. (Photo by Andy Cross/The Denver Post)

The Aurora school board is offering superintendent Rico Munn a contract extension.

Marques Ivey, the school board president, made the announcement during Tuesday’s regular board meeting.

“The board of education believes we are headed in the right direction,” Ivey said. Munn can keep the district going in the right direction, he added.

The contract extension has not been approved yet. Munn said Tuesday night that it had been sent to his lawyer, but he had not had time to review it.

Munn took the leadership position in Aurora Public Schools in 2013. His current contract is set to expire at the end of June.

Munn indicated he intends to sign the new contract after he has time to review it. If he does so, district leaders expect the contract to be on the agenda of the board’s next meeting, April 3, for a first review, and then for a vote at the following meeting.

Details about the new offer, including the length of the extension or any salary increases, have not been made public.

Four of the seven members currently on the board were elected in November as part of a union-supported slate. Many voiced disapproval of some of the superintendent’s reform strategies such as his invitation to charter school network DSST to open in Aurora.

In their first major vote as a new board, the board also voted against the superintendent’s recommendation for the turnaround of an elementary school, signaling a disagreement with the district’s turnaround strategies.

But while several Aurora schools remain low performing, last year the district earned a high enough rating from the state to avoid a path toward state action.

cooling off

New York City charter leader Eva Moskowitz says Betsy DeVos is not ‘ready for prime time’

PHOTO: Chalkbeat
Success Academy CEO and founder Eva Moskowitz seemed to be cooling her support for U.S. Education Secretary Betsy DeVos.

In New York City, Eva Moskowitz has been a lone voice of support for the controversial U.S. Education Secretary Betsy DeVos. But even Moskowitz appears to be cooling on the secretary following an embarrassing interview.

“I believe her heart is in the right place,” Moskowitz, founder and CEO of Success Academy, said of DeVos at an unrelated press conference. “But as the recent interviews indicate, I don’t believe she’s ready for primetime in terms of answering all of the complex questions that need to be answered on the topic of public education and choice.”

That is an apparent reference to DeVos’s roundly criticized appearance on 60 Minutes, which recently aired a 30-minute segment in which the secretary admits she hasn’t visited struggling schools in her tenure. Even advocates of school choice, DeVos’s signature issue, called her performance an “embarrassment,” and “Saturday Night Live” poked fun at her.  

Moskowitz’s comments are an about-face from when the education secretary was first appointed. While the rest of the New York City charter school community was mostly quiet after DeVos was tapped for the position, Moskowitz was the exception, tweeting that she was “thrilled.” She doubled-down on her support months later in an interview with Chalkbeat.

“I believe that education reform has to be a bipartisan issue,” she said.

During Monday’s press conference, which Success Academy officials called to push the city for more space for its growing network, Moskowitz also denied rumors, fueled by a tweet from AFT President Randi Weingarten, that Success officials had recently met with members of the Trump administration.

Shortly after the election, Moskowitz met with Trump amid speculation she was being considered for the education secretary position. This time around, she said it was “untrue” that any visits had taken place.

“You all know that a while back, I was asked to meet with the president-elect. I thought it was important to take his call,” she said. “I was troubled at the time by the Trump administration. I’m even more troubled now. And so, there has been no such meeting.”