GUEST COMMENTARY: Lawmakers favor private education at public schools' expense

2013-05-05T00:00:00Z GUEST COMMENTARY: Lawmakers favor private education at public schools' expenseBy the Northwest Indiana Public School Study Council nwitimes.com

In an Indiana General Assembly session where so much could have been done for K-12 public schools, the super majorities in the House and Senate let those opportunities slip through their fingers.

The most disappointing issue was the second year funding in the biennial budget. The first year (fiscal year 2014), the formula provides a statewide increase of 2 percent and an increase of 1.7 percent in dollars per average daily membership. This is close to inflation.

In 2015, the statewide increase is only 1 percent with an increase of 0.5 percent in dollars per ADM. It is projected that inflation will be 1.6 percent. They had the funds to provide an extra 1 percent.

It is always important to note these are statewide averages. In 2014, 115 public school corporations will receive less or be flat-lined when comparing to their 2013 figures.

Why is this disappointing? The state revenue forecast was increased last week by $290 million. One percent on the formula for 2015 would have cost about $58 million. Instead, they provide an extended reduction in the state's income tax that will not be fully implemented until 2017. An average family of four will save $114. 

Second, the Senate Republicans added to the budget a provision to forgive all of the charter school loans from the Common School Fund. Charter schools' loans from the Common School Fund for start-up costs amounted to $91 million. The Common School Fund will be reimbursed from the state's surplus to make it whole.

Legislators thought this was a better use of the state's surplus than providing an extra 1 percent for the formula in 2015 to public schools. That $91 million is 1.5 percent on the school funding formula. Charter schools clearly were given priorities.

Last, the expansion of vouchers in HB 1003 was a major issue. The conference committee report on HB 1003 returned the funding amount for elementary vouchers to $4,500 per year. All through the session, HB 1003 contained language to increase this amount. But, in a move that we have seen so often, the increase of elementary vouchers was put into the budget. It calls for an increase to $4,700 in 2014 and $4,800 in 2015. That is a 4.4 percent increase in 2014 and 2.1 percent in 2015.

This shows legislators see the need to increase funding for private school vouchers as more important than increases for K-12 public education. Remember, K-12 will receive 2 percent and 1 percent increases. Private voucher money reduces the increase of money to public schools.

Why legislators are showing favor and priority to private education is a question every voter should be asking. When they say public schools are not performing and privatizing schools is the solution, ask for the facts.

Steady improvement over the past 20 years in Indiana’s public schools has been clearly documented. Indiana’s public schools stand at or near their highest marks in history on attendance rate, SAT math, ACT, National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP), ISTEP+, and percentage earning Academic Honors diplomas and Core 40 diplomas.

In addition, 10 Northwest Indiana public high schools received top ratings in the U.S. News and World Report 2013 Best High School rankings released recently. A total of 58 Indiana high schools were named bronze medal schools. See this at USNews.com/education/best-high schools.

The truth is that public schools are performing in Indiana!

After the last four years of cuts and flatline funding in public education, this legislative session was very disappointing. Stand up for your public schools! Let legislators know that public schools need support and to stop funding private education!

Hoosier public school students deserve opportunities provided by properly funded schools.

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