GUEST COMMENTARY: Urge legislators to financially support public schools

2013-02-17T00:00:00Z GUEST COMMENTARY: Urge legislators to financially support public schoolsBy the Northwest Indiana Public School Study Council nwitimes.com
February 17, 2013 12:00 am  • 

As we approach the halfway point of the current session of the Indiana General Assembly, the Northwest Indiana Superintendent’s Study Council has serious concerns for Indiana’s legislators and citizens to consider.

When the economy was in the deepest part of the recession a few years ago, the need for school districts to adjust to a reduced level of funding for education was painful but somewhat understandable.

Indiana’s plan was to fund K-12 education with sales tax in lieu of stable property taxes. The elimination of all local property tax support of schools’ general funds was supposed to be offset by higher sales tax revenues. But when sales tax revenue plummeted, so did financial support of public education. School funding was reduced by $300 million per year from previous levels.

Now that Indiana is again operating at a surplus, and its historically sound cash balance has been restored, isn’t it time for public schools to see a restoration of funding cut in the middle of the 2009-10 school year?

Recent discussion from Gov. Mike Pence’s office indicates he would like to add 1 percent to the K-12 section of the budget. Will public schools even receive the full 1 percent increase?

Pence and the Indiana House of Representatives intend to significantly expand the private school voucher program. Under the expanded voucher bill, parents of private school students could receive up to $6,500 per year per child and up to $3,000 in tax deductions for which public school parents who earn much less are not eligible.

Additionally, increased tax credits, tax deductions and increases in the amount of the voucher are being recommended for students already attending private schools. Estimates are surfacing that these tax breaks and voucher increases might amount to almost $50 million. These funds would be removed from the money available for public schools, leaving only half of the proposed 1 percent increase.

After four very lean years for public school systems throughout the state, is this the time to siphon even more money out of public schools for use in private schools?

Most school systems have been operating during the current school year with general fund revenues similar to what they received in 2008, while at the same time aggressively responding to numerous state and federal mandates and implementing appropriate programs. Since annual operation costs have also continued to increase, isn't it time for substantial financial relief for public schools?

Most people recognize that public school systems in Indiana place no restrictions or qualifications on the students who walk through their doors. If a student resides inside the district boundaries, their local school welcomes that student and tailors a program to meet the individual needs of that child.

Additionally, it is well known students who require more learning support are served in significantly greater numbers in public schools. Shouldn't this issue be recognized as the Legislature builds the budget for the next two years?

The performance of Indiana’s public schools has improved during the lean financial times of the past four years through the hard work of teachers and administrators.

How much longer can improvements in public schools continue as costs and expectations escalate while funding deteriorates? How much longer until public school systems have to reduce or eliminate educational opportunities for children?

Pence has continually expressed his desire to take the steps necessary to increase the number of good jobs in Indiana. Great companies considering relocation to Indiana will demand high quality public schools as a prerequisite to relocating here.

Our governor and state legislators must demonstrate to the public that it will not abandon public education, but will fund it to meet its ever-increasing expectations.

Please urge your legislators to financially support their public schools.

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