The “Celebration of Public Education” Monday in the Statehouse was a tremendous event! Thanks to all who came and thanks to all who were there in spirit!
As our outstanding rally speakers said, public education needs our renewed support and protection.
This is true this week in House Bill 1315, which would set troubling precedents to deconstruct the local control of public education if it is not amended by the Senate Appropriations Committee.
Here are the four concerns about HB 1315 that I testified on in the Senate Appropriations Committee last Thursday, Feb. 15:
Chairman Mishler listened closely to lengthy testimony and said the testimony would guide an amendment he would bring to the bill at a later meeting. HB 1315 has not been included on the agenda for the next meeting on February 22nd so you have time to make your concerns known this week.
The bill needs to be amended. We need your participation.
Please review the details about each concern below and then contact members of the Senate Appropriations Committee listed here as soon as possible:
Republicans: Senators Mishler (chair), Brown, Bassler, Boots, Bray, Charbonneau, Crider, Eckerty and Holdman
Democrats: Senators Tallian, Breaux, Niezgodski and Taylor
It would also help if you send a strong message to amend this bill to Senator Long, Senate President Pro Tem, and to your own Senator.
House Bill 1315 – School Corporation Financial Management
House Bill 1315, sponsored by Representative Tim Brown, chair of the House Ways and Means Committee, proposes to restrict the voice of the public in the public schools in Muncie and Gary because district leaders over several years overspent their budget and fell into debt.
It also proposes to set up an assessment of the financial health of all public school districts, setting up a dashboard of financial indicators for all school corporations.
Concern #1: For the first time, a public school district could be governed by school board members who do not live in the school district.
HB 1315 as it passed the House on a party line vote says the Muncie city council and the Muncie mayor can each nominate a school board member “who must reside within the boundaries of the Muncie school corporation district.”
The other five members will be nominated by the president of Ball State and are not required to be residents of the Muncie school corporation. Under this plan, school board members would be setting property tax levies when they don’t even live in the community. This would surely be the basis for a lawsuit regarding representation and cost the district significant money for legal defense which has not been budgeted.
This is unprecedented among current school boards and would be a major step in the deconstruction of local public schools in Indiana which began in 2011.
Ask Senators to return the public to the Muncie public schools by requiring that all seven members “reside within the boundaries of the Muncie school corporation district.”
Concern #2: For the first time, a public school district could ignore state law mandates to display the flag and to study the US Constitution and citizenship. Even private voucher schools are not allowed to ignore the laws on citizenship mandates!
HB 1315 turns Muncie’s fiscal crisis into a grand academic experiment “to provide all administrative and academic flexibility to implement innovative strategies”, in the words of the bill. It makes Muncie schools subject to only 17 laws which they must follow instead of the entire body of school law which every other school district must observe.
This would make the entire Muncie Community School district akin to an experimental charter school.
This flexibility goes too far. The bill actually removes the legal obligations in 20-30-5 for schools to display the flag, say the pledge of allegiance, study the U.S. Constitution, and provide non-partisan citizenship instruction at the time of each general election. No district should be waived from teaching students about citizenship in our democracy!
Ask Senators to have the Muncie Community Schools follow the same Indiana school laws that the General Assembly has told all other school districts to follow.
Concern #3: For the first time, a public school district in debt and financial distress could lose its public school board in favor of an “advisory committee”.
The Gary Public Schools are already under control of an emergency manager who has full control of all district decisions under legislation passed last year in 2017. The powers of the school board have been suspended until the emergency manager recommends to the Distressed Unit Appeal Board (DUAB) that the financial crisis has been repaired and that a return to local control is appropriate. This process could require several years.
Given that it already has no power, it is surprising that HB 1315 ends the institution of the school board in favor of a new entity called an “advisory committee” which “may not hold a meeting more than once every three (3) months.”
The institution of the school board has served Indiana well for over one hundred years. When financial mismanagement requires that an emergency manager take over to make budgetary corrections, the citizens of Indiana can understand and would assume that after corrective actions have been taken and financial stability has been restored, power to run the public schools would be returned to the local school board under new leadership.
Opponents of public education have long said that school boards should be dissolved and all schools should become charter schools.
Is this bill the camel’s nose under the tent for the proposition that we don’t need school boards which represent the community? Is this the first step to losing control of our public schools by community school boards?
Ask Senators to maintain the institution of the school board for all public school districts so that when financial distress and debt problems have been resolved by an emergency manager, local control can be returned to the local community through a school board, an institution that has stood the test of time.
Concern #4: For the first time, any public school district could be put on a watch list for financial mismanagement which could potentially be made public before detailed reviews have guaranteed the accuracy of the financial assessment. The confidentiality of preliminary data must be guaranteed.
Our generational question in Indiana is “Can the public have confidence in our public schools?” Any appearance on a “watch list” for financial instability can deeply shake public confidence in any school district, so any such designation must be treated with extreme caution and vetted for absolute accuracy.
Some have called this plan a “shame list” and point out the damage that could be done to public confidence if premature and inaccurate data is made public.
Ask Senators to amend the fiscal indicators section of HB 1315 to permit the Distressed Unit Appeal Board (DUAB) to consider “watch lists” in confidential executive sessions so that no district will prematurely get a black eye in the public’s mind until accuracy has been certified.
Take Action This Week
Send the Senators listed above one or all of these messages to protect our public schools:
If you are concerned with any of these four points, it is important that you communicate your concerns to members of the Senate Appropriations Committee listed above as soon as possible. Go to the Indiana General Assembly website for easy connections to the email of Senators on the committee.
Thank you for actively supporting public education in Indiana!
Vic Smith firstname.lastname@example.org
“Vic’s Statehouse Notes” and ICPE received one of three Excellence in Media Awards presented by Delta Kappa Gamma Society International, an organization of over 85,000 women educators in seventeen countries. The award was presented on July 30, 2014 during the Delta Kappa Gamma International Convention held in Indianapolis. Thank you Delta Kappa Gamma!
ICPE has worked since 2011 to promote public education in the Statehouse and oppose the privatization of schools. We need your membership to help support ICPE lobbying efforts. As of July 1st, the start of our new membership year, it is time for all ICPE members to renew their membership.
Our lobbyist Joel Hand is representing ICPE extremely well in the 2018 short session. We need your memberships and your support to continue his work. We welcome additional members and additional donations. We need your help and the help of your colleagues who support public education! Please pass the word!
Some readers have asked about my background in Indiana public schools. Thanks for asking! Here is a brief bio:
I am a lifelong Hoosier and began teaching in 1969. I served as a social studies teacher, curriculum developer, state research and evaluation consultant, state social studies consultant, district social studies supervisor, assistant principal, principal, educational association staff member, and adjunct university professor. I worked for Garrett-Keyser-Butler Schools, the Indiana University Social Studies Development Center, the Indiana Department of Education, the Indianapolis Public Schools, IUPUI, and the Indiana Urban Schools Association, from which I retired as Associate Director in 2009. I hold three degrees: B.A. in Ed., Ball State University, 1969; M.S. in Ed., Indiana University, 1972; and Ed.D., Indiana University, 1977, along with a Teacher’s Life License and a Superintendent’s License, 1998. In 2013 I was honored to receive a Distinguished Alumni Award from the IU School of Education, and in 2014 I was honored to be named to the Teacher Education Hall of Fame by the Association for Teacher Education – Indiana.
Speech given by Cathy Fuentes-Rohwer
Location: Rally for Public Education at the Indiana Statehouse
Our legislators are failing our children. They are tasked with the support for public education in Indiana and, instead, they are making it a commodity.
The laws and educational policies they’ve put in place have created a marketplace of schools, where it’s about “a parent’s right to choose” and not a social responsibility. This is not about your children or my children: it’s about ALL of our children. Our state constitution does not guarantee our kids a “school choice” or “a quality education IF you can get it.” It says:
“Knowledge and learning, … being essential to the preservation of a free government; it should be the duty of the General Assembly to encourage … and provide, by law, for a general and uniform system of Common Schools, wherein tuition shall be without charge, and equally open to all.”
Their duty is to provide equal educational opportunity—not a competition for it. Not high quality schools if you win the lottery. Their job is to support our public schools and fund them.
5 years ago I stood here and said, "We think it is wrong that our PTAs have to hold bake sales and put pretty baskets up for auction while politicians redirect millions of our tax dollars to private schools."
That was 2013 when the amount of money our state spent on vouchers totaled $37 million.
Last year it was $146 million.
How many cookies do we have to bake to make up for that?
What kind of auction would retrieve the money that is flushed down the toilet with every charter school that goes belly up? We have spent well over a billion dollars on charters since 2011 and one in five have closed. What would our public schools have done with that money? Instead, people are making money off of these ventures—profiting off of our children.
What happens when education policy is determined by businessmen and legislators and NOT educators? Pushing kids onto tracks for college and career readiness. My son at 13 and, in 7th grade, is now taking a test to find out what career he should be thinking about preparing his schedule for in high school—a year and a half away. He came home from school last week and said, “Mami: I don’t WANT to be an adoption counselor or a grief counselor, but that’s what the test said I should be.” I said, “Don’t worry about that test, sweetie. Just try your best in your classes. Those tests are for making someone rich. It’s not time to figure out your career, yet.”
So, instead of focusing on empathy and kindness for just being a part of HUMANITY, these policies are pushing my son to look at his traits and abilities in terms of what they can bring to BUSINESS and the workforce. He is a child: trying to figure out who he is, how to rein in emotions, how to communicate well, how to think outside the box—and our state legislators are trying to force him into one.
You can call the test I-STEP or I-LEARN or I-MAKE-MONEY-FOR-PEARSON, but as long as the stakes are attached to the scores, as long as you are basing the future of schools, teachers and, yes, our KIDS, on a culturally/racially-biased, limited, and reflecting-socioeconomic status, standardized test score, you aren’t creating pathways, you’re creating social inequality.
The promise of public education is equity—it’s supposed to be the great equalizer, not the great workforce provider. Its purpose is DEMOCRACY and our legislators are currently deciding if they are against this, too. #HB1315 the state takeover of schools bill.
Democracy is messy and government can be disappointingly imperfect. But the answer is not to give up our power or our right to vote. It most certainly is not for our government to decide who gets democratic participation & representation and who does not.
Do we punish schools struggling financially or support them? Do we take schools that have lost funding and opportunity, purposefully starve them further, and then grade them and take them over based on how financially stable they are? Our legislature is shirking their responsibility to care for the most vulnerable of our society while blaming schools, teachers and kids for not trying hard enough to succeed. Poverty is at the heart of our public school troubles, it’s a societal problem and it will take all of us as a community to work together to solve. It’s an economic problem that involves economic development solutions.
And, at the center of a solution to a community problem must be real power-- by including voices that have been marginalized and joining together all voices, to effect change.
We know what happens when the public is kept out of decision-making power—we’ve seen the news in Michigan. We know that when public accountability is removed and top down decisions occur, it’s as toxic to democracy as the water that children in Flint drank.
We must stand in solidarity with our fellow citizens of Gary and Muncie. We must demand the senate appropriations committee create a timeline for a return to local control. Our schools and school boards are democracy in action. Our fellow citizens, community members, who are accountable to us, not those who appoint them-- are what puts the “public” in public education. It’s not just about Gary or Muncie—your school community could be next.
Please join ICPE. Help us organize and inform our communities, defend public education, and help fulfill its promise for all of our children.