Indiana is one of a handful of states that do not fund textbooks for public school districts. Instead, our state encourages districts to pass the costs along to families and to pursue debt collection if families are unwilling or unable to pay. Families who receive free or reduced lunch can qualify for textbook assistance, but money is tight for many families who do not meet the cutoff.
The costs are considerable, anywhere between $100 to $300 per student, depending on the district and the grade level. (Wealthier districts are likely to charge and provide more—another avenue for disparities in the academic experience to creep into our schools.) Evansville Vanderburgh School Corporation sued more than 500 families over three months this year for unpaid bills, including bills for textbooks. Think about it. Textbooks and other curricular materials are not exactly extras. They are central to teaching and learning. And yet our state pits schools' need for these essential tools against the finances of families who may struggle to pay. So much for a free public education. In 2014, then-state-superintendent Glenda Ritz asked legislators to fully fund public education and pay for textbooks by adding $70 million to the schools' budget. They didn't.
To put that $70 million in perspective: $70 million or thereabouts is currently paid by Indiana's public school families for what is supposedly a "free" public education, and yet, for the 2016-2017 school year, Indiana sent $146 million in public dollars to private, mainly religious schools through the voucher program. In other words, even though the state is not paying for a basic necessity, textbooks, in public schools, we fling money away to schools which are not owned by the public and have no accountability to the public--no public oversight through elected boards, no transparency in budgets, curriculum, or hiring practices.
To add insult to injury, private school parents and homeschoolers in Indiana can write off school supplies and textbooks when they file their taxes, but we don't get to write off those costs if we send our kids to public schools.
House Bill 1169 would address this problem. It would require public schools to provide curricular materials at no cost to students, and would establish a fund and appropriations for state reimbursement of public schools’ curricular costs.
Our challenge is to get state legislators to support House Bill 1169 and the idea of actually funding textbooks for all public school students. Lawmakers are only going to do this if they are contacted by people in their districts.
We have written a petition asking legislators to act this session to eliminate textbook fees. We hope you will sign it and share it with your friends.
Petition to the Indiana Legislature: Support HB 1169 to Eliminate Textbook Fees for Public School Students (click here to sign)
Other ways you can act:
1. Share your story in the comments here. How much did textbooks cost you this year? Were there things you didn't do or buy in order to be able to afford to pay for textbooks?
2. Call or write Representative Tim Brown, chair of the House Ways and Means Committee, and Representative Jeffrey Thompson, the chair of its K-12 subcommittee, to demand that HB 1169 receive a hearing. You can reach their offices through the House switchboard at 800-382-9841.
3. Write a letter to the editor of your local newspaper. Most newspapers have online submission forms. Please email us (firstname.lastname@example.org) if you need help finding your paper's online submission page.
4. Write a letter to your state senator and state representative. If you don't already know who your legislators are, click here to find them.
5. Write a letter to your superintendent and school board members asking them to take action to support HB 1169.