Education in Indiana: Charter School Bill Moves to Full House

The following is an update of a very important bill currently being considered by the Indiana House:

Bill # and Title: SB 1002 – Charter Schools
Authors: Speaker of the House Brian Bosma (R-Indianapolis), Rep. Bob Behning (R-Indianapolis) and Rep. Mary Ann Sullivan (D-Indianapolis)

Summary: Allows private universities and mayors of second-class cities to serve as charter school authorizers. Creates the Indiana Charter School Board to serve as a statewide authorizer.  (Continues authorizing authority for state universities and the Indianapolis mayor.) Makes unused and underutilized public school facilities available for charter school use. Eliminates limits on charter schools approved by the Indianapolis mayor and on virtual charter schools. Increases funding for virtual charter schools from 80% of average state tuition support to 90%. Cancels interest payments on loans from the state that charter schools have acquired as the result of delayed tuition payments. Makes additional changes.

Chamber Position: Support

Status: House Education Committee considered 15 amendments out of 30 that were filed. Three amendments were accepted, including a substantial amendment developed by the co-authors and two additional amendments offered by Democrats. After eight hours of testimony and debate – five hours last week and three additional hours this week – the committee voted 8-5, along party lines, to recommend the bill’s passage. It is now eligible for consideration by the full House.

Update/Chamber Action: Despite the partisan vote from committee members, it certainly cannot be suggested that this bill has not had extensive consideration and debate. Nonetheless, House Democrats offered a Minority Committee report when the committee action was delivered to the full House. That effort failed, but not before a contentious floor debate in which Rep. Greg Porter (D-Indianapolis) and Rep. Pat Bauer (D-South Bend) portrayed the charter bill as an attempt to undermine collective bargaining. (In reality, the bill allows teachers in charter schools to bargain collectively if they so choose; but most charter teachers choose not to join a union.) This bill is likely to draw dozens of proposed amendments and a long, contentious debate as it moves to the full House. The Indiana Chamber will continue working with the bill’s authors and other charter school supporters to analyze amendments, fend off detrimental changes and drive the bill to final passage.  Meanwhile, we are pleased to note the steadfast support of Rep. Sullivan, who was the only Democrat to buck her caucus on the Minority Committee report. We also noted this editorial from Democrat Mayor Tom McDermott of Hammond, who has called for the bill’s passage.

Hoosier Casinos Brace for Illinois Challengers

While much has been discussed about the competition Indiana casinos may face from newcomers in Ohio, Illinois gaming is also striving to compete. The Times of Northwest Indiana reports on how casinos in "the region" are preparing for competition from the Chicago area:

Illinois’ gambit to embark on a wholesale expansion of gambling with five new casinos, including one in Chicago and one in the south suburbs, is being carefully watched by those with a stake in the success of Northwest Indiana’s five casinos.

Hammond Mayor Thomas McDermott Jr. said he thinks a casino in the south suburbs would be more of a competitor for Horseshoe than a downtown Chicago casino. But anyone who wants to compete with the Hammond boat will have his work cut out for him.

"In reality, at the end of the day, even if we have a boat on the other side of the border, it will have to stack up against Horseshoe and that will not be easy to do," McDermott said.

Horseshoe is Indiana’s gaming heavyweight, with its annual revenues of more than $500 million per year accounting for about one-fifth of the state’s total gaming revenues.

Horseshoe generates more than $35 million in tax and revenue share for the city of Hammond, which has used the money to transform entire neighborhoods with new streets, sidewalks, sewers and even moderate-income housing.

The other Northwest Indiana casinos are Ameristar in East Chicago, Majestic Star I and Majestic Star II in Gary, and Blue Chip in Michigan City. In Illinois, Ford Heights has a powerful coalition working to land the south suburban gaming license.

South Shore Convention and Visitors Authority CEO Speros Batistatos agreed Horseshoe is well positioned to withstand any onslaught but said that is not the case with Northwest Indiana’s other casinos.

He said the Four Winds Casino Resort, which opened in 2007 in New Buffalo, Mich., has demonstrated the effect cross-border gaming can have on Northwest Indiana’s casinos.

However, Batistatos feels the real challenge to Northwest Indiana boats from Illinois would come from a downtown Chicago casino and not one in the south suburbs.

"You can say what you want about Hammond, East Chicago and Gary," Batistatos said. "But I don’t know anyone that is going to drive to Ford Heights, even if you plop Caesar’s Palace there."

Northwest Indiana casinos have been combating the competition from Michigan and Illinois with new facilities and improved amenities.