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.