Every crisis is an opportunity…for profiteers and privatizers.
During the pandemic, the demands on our public schools have multiplied. Public schools throughout Indiana are now supplying both in-person and online instruction. Teachers are stretched thin as they teach in-person and online students and adjust their curricula accordingly. Administrators are working around the clock helping school nurses contact-trace on top of their normal duties. School bus drivers are doubling up their routes in order to carry fewer students at a time. Districts are spending to improve their HVAC systems. School social workers are trying to track down and provide services to the students who have gone missing even as they give more assistance to the students who are present but whose parents have lost jobs and livelihoods.
In other words, our public schools need more resources—they need more money—to be able to answer the depth of need in our communities. Yet due to Indiana’s funding model, which relies on per-student tuition support, public schools are already expecting lower revenue; in the pandemic, some students have disappeared, and many families have delayed kindergarten entrance.
Let’s be clear: Public schools are the only schools that are legally obligated to educate and serve each and every child regardless of disability status, religion, or family income. We require our public schools to make or find the capacity to serve every child.
Even before the pandemic, the fiscal situation for public schools was grim:
That sound you hear is the slow sweep of vultures’ wings. The chair of the Indiana House Education Committee, Robert Behning, has introduced a bill, HB 1005, that would give more state education dollars to parents who can already afford private school tuition. It would lift the family income cap for a family of four to $145,000 in 2023 (already, families of four earning up to $96,000 qualify for a 50% voucher) and remove the income tiers within the program so that all eligible families can receive a 90% voucher. This expansion would come at a high cost to taxpayers. Read Vic’s Statehouse Notes #348 to learn more about the fiscal impact.
Were you paying $15,765 per child to send your two kids to Cathedral High School? No problem. The state of Indiana can pitch in. Or $21,795 for your junior at the International School of Indiana? If HB 1005 passes, the state of Indiana has your back.
Educating children well is expensive, and the expense is worth it. But there’s a difference in how money is stewarded. When public money goes to public schools, it’s like investing in our community parks or city fire departments. The investments we make in infrastructure and personnel benefit the whole community for generations. When we send state money to private schools, the money may benefit individual families, but the costs disappear into a private world…a gated community, accessible only according to the values and capability of the school leadership, unaccountable to the whole.
And while money follows children into private schools, their rights do not. Private schools don’t need to serve students with disabilities, or LGBTQ families, or families with different belief systems; they can fire their gay married employees, as Roncalli and Cathedral did at the behest of their Archdiocese; they don't need to adhere to state curriculum requirements.
Vouchers in Indiana are enabling white flight, just like the segregation academies that are their antecedents. Private schools' student bodies may be much whiter than the communities in which they are located. Roncalli High School in Indianapolis has just 7 Black students this year in a school population of 1062. (Nearby public high schools in Southport and Beech Grove have 213 Black students out of 2,326 and 126 of 1005, respectively.) Even with the current voucher income limit, Roncalli received $1.8 million dollars in voucher money in 2019-20.
There’s time to stop this bill, but it will take many voices. Email the House Education Committee (addresses are below). You can use the talking points ICPE has compiled. Do it today or tomorrow. The committee meets Wednesday. If you are on fire, consider signing up to testify in person at the committee meeting in Indianapolis on Wednesday. Rumor has it that privatization/school choice advocates will be there in force.
Jenny Robinson and Keri Miksza
P.S. Guess what? There’s an even worse part of HB 1005, a foot in the door for the blandly named “Education Savings Accounts,” which are like vouchers on steroids. More about that in another post.
PPS. Contact Indiana’s House Education Committee to oppose HB 1005:
Republican Representatives Behning (firstname.lastname@example.org), Jordan (email@example.com), Carbaugh (firstname.lastname@example.org), Clere (email@example.com), Cook (firstname.lastname@example.org), Davis (email@example.com), Goodrich (firstname.lastname@example.org), Teshka (email@example.com), Thompson (firstname.lastname@example.org)
Democrat Representatives Smith (email@example.com), DeLaney (firstname.lastname@example.org), Klinker (email@example.com), Pfaff (firstname.lastname@example.org)
Here are all the addresses together if you want to cut and paste:
email@example.com, firstname.lastname@example.org, email@example.com, firstname.lastname@example.org, email@example.com, firstname.lastname@example.org, email@example.com, firstname.lastname@example.org, email@example.com, firstname.lastname@example.org, email@example.com, firstname.lastname@example.org, email@example.com
And Indiana PTA has created a quick form letter that allows you to send a quick email.
On January 20, 2021, Indiana Coalition for Public Education–Monroe County, Indiana Coalition for Public Education, Northwest Indiana Coalition for Public Education, and Northeast Indiana Friends of Public Education collectively sent a letter to Governor Holcomb and Dr. Box. There are a number of benefits to prioritizing teachers in the vaccine schedule. One of the most important is that it would show that the State of Indiana values teachers and their safety.
For Indiana’s economy, the safety of teachers and students, and to allow in-person schooling to occur across the state with fewer interruptions, we ask that you adopt the CDC guidelines for COVID-19 vaccination, which indicate that teachers, support staff, and daycare workers should be vaccinated after frontline healthcare workers. Doing so will support families and show our educators that the State of Indiana values the work they do educating the next generation of Hoosiers.
You can read the full letter below. If you click on the letter, it will allow you to download a PDF that is more legible.
2020 began as an ordinary year for us. We were watching education legislation, writing postcards to our representatives, working on scheduling an event, and holding our meetings. And then, of course, everything changed.
What We Accomplished
Now we can divide the year into a clear “before” and “after.” In the before—that stretch of time from January through early March—we met in person. We held a well-attended event about the struggle for school desegregation with historian Elizabeth Mitchell and education professor Stephanie Power-Carter at the site of Bloomington's first segregated school. A friend opened her house to us on a few Sundays so that we could write letters to legislators together. And some members attended the annual Rally at the Statehouse on President's Day.
In mid-March, that all changed, and like everyone else, we had to approach our work very differently. We met on Zoom and tried to get our bearings. And we did. We accomplished a lot in 2020—despite having a chair who was obsessively checking covid numbers every night.
ICPE–Monroe County members worked on several creative and collaborative projects this past year.
In the summer, our membership committee of Peg Smith, Wendy Marencik, and Janet Stake conducted a thorough and successful membership drive. We also collected donations for our “Vote for Public Education” yard signs. Keri Miksza designed them and drove them throughout the state. Proceeds went to public education candidates through the state ICPE PAC.
In July, we issued a call for metrics around reopening schools during the pandemic. This was cosigned by other ICPE groups and the Washington Township Parent Network. We certainly can’t take credit for this, but several weeks later the Indiana Department of Health did introduce its county metrics map and somewhat more specific guidelines for schools in different phases of virus spread.
As we geared up for the election in the fall, our member Heather Hundley organized phone banking for public education candidates.
In September, Bob Arnove and Debbie Fish participated on a panel about assessment organized by Democracy for Monroe County. And, with the gracious help of Sofia McDowell and Democracy for Monroe County, we hosted two school board forums, one for Richland Bean Blossom, and one for MCCSC.
In October, Keri and I presented at the Monroe County Children’s Summit sponsored by Building a Thriving Compassionate Community. Our topic was school funding and the importance of investing in our public schools. This session was recorded and is available for viewing on the BTCC website.
Lastly, in early December, we were able to hear from our outgoing state senator Mark Stoops and our incoming state senator Shelli Yoder about what we might expect in this upcoming session.
How We Spent Your Annual Membership Fees and Donations
Membership fees and general donations provide essential support for our efforts. Here is how we spent your contributions last year. Keep in mind that $25 of every combined state/local membership goes to the state-level ICPE to support them and our lobbyist, Joel Hand. Joel attends education committee meetings at the Statehouse, gives testimony representing ICPE’s positions, and learns what bills may be headed our way.
This year, even though we spent most of the year operating remotely via Zoom, we did decide to put large chunks of our funds towards things we believed in. We brought in $2861, which was $739 shy of our goal of $3,600. While no one wants to be short a financial goal, it was a pandemic year. In total we spent $3,393 this year, pulling funds from our cash reserves to help make ends meet.
Special Thanks and Going Forward
In closing, thank you to all our members for supporting our work for public schools. Special thanks are owed to my fellow officers, Pam Bessler, Nancy Goswami, and Keri Miksza. Pam as our treasurer does the careful and meticulous work of keeping track of our budget, income, and expenditures. Nancy stepped up and took on the crucial role of secretary when we needed to fill it. And Keri has about twenty hats—among them, researcher, designer, data cruncher, maintainer of social media, writer, and builder of relationships.
2020 was also a year of change: Three of our long-time board members left our board during the course of this year: Charlie Savage, Janet Stake, and Debbie Fish. Also, Byron Turner decided to step back from the board after serving through December 2020. Each of them has given so much to this organization over the years and I cannot begin to thank them for all their time, creativity, and knowledge. Please thank them when you see them, either in the material or the virtual world. Lastly, I am thrilled that our amazing Keri Miksza is taking over as chair. Volunteer if you can—Keri will put you to work!
Here's to a healthy 2021.
Indiana Coalition for Public Education–Monroe County (ICPE–Monroe County) advocates for all children to have high quality, equitable, well-funded schools that are subject to democratic oversight by their communities.
We are a nonpartisan and nonprofit group of parents, grandparents, caregivers, teachers, and other community members of Monroe County and surrounding areas.