INDIANAPOLIS – Public schools are closely watching three bills at the Statehouse. If approved, the proposals would divert money from public schools to expand voucher programs.
“There’s no way to catch up with what’s happened over many years,” said Sabra Gage, a teacher & the President of the Washington Township Education Association.
Public school teachers just like Gage, serve more than 90% of Indiana’s students.
“When they take away money from our budgets, or they decide to funnel it somewhere else that takes away from the money we can educate all children,” she added.
Gage, along with public school educators state-wide are opposed to House Bill 1005 and Senate Bills 412 and 413. The bills would expand voucher programs and create a new education scholarship account program giving parents state dollars to spend on educating their kids.
Public schools are worried. If passed, it would take millions of dollars from their schools to fund private or charter schools.
“While that sounds like a wonderful thing, you waive certain federal rights and there are problems or issues with non-public schools that have to do with accountability,” said Don Kite, the School Board Vice President for MSD Washington Township.
Washington Township signed a resolution, to highlight their concerns. In part it reads, “the Washington Township Education Association and the MSD Washington Township School Board believe that public schools provide a strong educational environment for Indiana’s children while this proposed legislation, if enacted, would direct resources away from public schools to nonpublic schools which are not accountable to taxpayers for the expenditures they make with public funds, are not audited by the State Board of Accounts, do not publish annual financial or performance reports.”
Noblesville schools are urging their community to take action, calling these proposals dangerous.
Indianapolis Public Schools Superintendent, Aleesia Johnson released a statement opposed the bills.
“Our legislators continue to talk about funding students, not systems. The reality is that more than 90% of students in Indiana have chosen public schools, and public schools are obligated—and proud—to serve all students. When there are zero dollars being proposed in the budget for supporting students in poverty or students receiving Special Education services, but funding for private school vouchers and education savings accounts is increasing by 20% to more than $200 million dollars, this does not communicate to me a focus on supporting the majority of students who’ve chosen public schools, especially those who we know are most vulnerable. The state continues to make funding decisions that threaten valuable quality programming, activities and academics for our students who most need them. We call on lawmakers to provide funding that’s equitable by directing the dollars toward the greatest need.”-Aleesia Johnson, IPS superintendent
Mt. Vernon Community School Corporation stressing to its families how this could impact teacher pay.
“I think it’s now more concerning. There could be more and more teachers who decide to leave the profession for something that pays better,” said Kellie Freeman, the School Board President of Mt. Vernon Schools.
State Representative Bob Behning is the Chair of the House Education Committee and the author of House Bill 1005. His proposal, if approved, would build on a previous law he authored establishing Indiana’s Choice Scholarship Program. Behning’s office says that program helps students from low-income families attend nonpublic schools.
“Every child deserves the opportunity to attend a school that best meets their needs, and a one-size-fits-all approach simply does not work. For most Hoosier students, their neighborhood public school is the right fit. Others will excel at another public school outside their assigned district, while some will choose to attend classes through a virtual school or at a nonpublic school. It should not matter where a child learns as long as they receive a high-quality education. There are a variety of reasons why a family chooses one school over another, and the COVID-19 pandemic highlighted the need for broader access to education options. From a single parent sending their child to a school that specializes in learning disabilities to a family needing all of their kids to attend the same school, Indiana’s school choice program provides parents the freedom and flexibility to enroll their student at a school that meets their academic, social, or medical needs. My legislation would remove financial roadblocks and empower more working Hoosier families to take control of their child’s education. Because when parents choose, students succeed.”State Representative Bob Behning
“Largely what we’re trying to do is to increase K-12 spending in the budget, we’re going to be a little limited on that this year,” added Rodric Bray, Republican Senate President Pro Tempore in a briefing on February 23.
Public schools are speaking out, because they want parents to understand that if these bills are passed, it could mean less money that they depend on.
“We’re not trying to eliminate choice, but when you take funding away,” Kite explained, “Needed funding away from public schools it makes it impossible to do the jobs that our teachers do every day.”
Freeman added, “If you’re a teacher you’re in it for the right reason, but you have to earn a living.”
These bills are still being discussed and the budget is not finalized.
We’ll keep you updated on what happens at the Statehouse. House Bill 1005 passed the House and went to the Senate; Senate Bill 413 passed the Senate and went to the house and senate Bill 412 has not passed out of committee yet.