SCHERERVILLE | Education and school reform in Indiana mean different things to state legislators and those responsible for educating students in the state’s public schools.
Representatives of the Indiana School Boards Association delivered that message last week at their Region 1 meeting at Teibel’s Restaurant in Schererville. The meeting focused on results of the 2013 session of the Indiana General Assembly and drew several hundred school board representatives and administrators from public school districts in Lake, Porter and LaPorte counties.
“School reform has been too much, too fast,” said Frank Bush, ISBA executive director and lobbyist. “We need to slow some things down.”
Bush called for those in attendance to contact their legislators over the next few months as laws enacted during the biennial budget session start to take effect. The Indiana General Assembly considered 215 education-related bills this session and 55 of those passed, many in the waning hours of the session through the conference committee, he said.
“The super majority was in total control (of the Legislature). They were going to do what they wanted,” Bush said. “We met with the conference committee. They smiled at us, thanked us and escorted us out.”
The funding of public education is chief among the ISBA’s concerns.
Indiana has a $2 billion surplus, $120 million in reserve and $290 million in estimated tax revenue coming in, Bush said.
“For the first time in a long time, Indiana has money. But what the General Assembly decided is that public schools could have a 2 percent increase in funding the first year (of the two-year budget) and 1 percent the second year,” he said.
Compounding the problem, Bush said, is a decision by the Legislature to pay back charter schools’ start-up money, amounting to $80 million.
“(The charter schools) should have had to pay that debt back to the common school fund,” Bush said. “The General Assembly made that debt-free money, and they couldn’t find money to pay more than 1 percent to public schools.”
Indiana and Florida led the nation in what is known as school reform, he said. However, that reform doesn’t fund vital programs, he said.
“Why is it that Indiana is one of 11 states that doesn’t provide state funding for preschool for 3- and 4-year-olds in need?” Bush asked. “Why are they not caring for the needs of children, which were ignored during this (legislative) session?”
The problem, he said, is that the General Assembly “sincerely believes public schools have plenty of money in their coffers.”
That’s because public school boards and administrations have made it work no matter how much money they've lost, Bush said.
In addition, the Legislature expanded the voucher program to more students, with state tax money going to fund education at private and parochial schools, he said. Those eligible for vouchers now will include special education students. Currently 9,100 students are eligible for vouchers. Next year 100,000 children will be eligible, he said.
“Private schools and charter schools are going to get a lot more money than public schools. ... Vouchers are an illogical piece of public policy,” Bush said.
“We (the ISBA) thought we had this bill killed until three days before the end of the session,” he said. “Now it’s law.”