It's winter, nearing spring. In Indiana, that means wild swings in temperature, sun and wind one day and hail the next. We get out the bikes, but don't put the snow shovel away. For people who care about K-12 education, it may be winter, but it's another kind of season, too, that brings its own kind of dread: the legislative session. In the policy realm, it is a season of surprises. There are always lots of plans in the works for Indiana schools. This year, by one count, 135 education bills were filed.
And what an array of bills they have been! Bills of questionable constitutionality, like a requirement to post patriotic elements in all classrooms, to give students credit for religion courses, to make parents bear the legal costs of the school district if the parents challenge an IEP and the judge turns them down—and that last bill, by the way, proposed making schools’ online communications not subject to public records law. A bill making it harder to pass a school levy. A bill that requires public schools to sell unused buildings to private schools if they express interest, and that would have required the funds raised by referenda to be shared with nearby charter schools. A bill with the weird, ominous provision that one public school district can claim a school in another district if the township trustee in that other district agrees. A bill that provides grant funding for schools to train teachers to use guns, and that makes it illegal to share which teachers/staff have received that training.
These bills would have real effects, and we’ve chased after them. We’ve gotten indignant, we’ve called legislators, and in some cases the bills have been modified by amendments to become less damaging.
But we have to keep our eye on the ball. This is a budget year, and the budget for education sets the baseline parameters for our schools. Budget proposals tend to be hard to wrap our minds around. The numbers are so large and they get distributed in opaque and complicated ways. There’s no narrative, no emotional arc.
Here are some facts related to the budget for K-12 education in Indiana:
Our kids and our communities deserve better. Underfunded schools have crumbling infrastructure, large class sizes, fewer bus routes, aging buses, high teacher turnover, and less science, social studies, art, music, and library, not to mention fewer curriculars and stressed teachers working second jobs at Starbucks. Underfunded schools hire fewer social workers, counselors, nurses, speech therapists, and school psychologists—professionals whose work supports the physical and emotional health of our children.
So here’s the ask. Call Senator Ryan Mishler, chair of the Senate Appropriations Committee, at 317-232-9814 and tell him that we need a 3% budget increase each year, for both 2020 and 2021—6% over two years—for our community public schools. Governor Holcomb and the House both proposed about a 2% increase, but that is not enough. The House budget includes $18 million in additional money for the voucher program and an additional $77 million for charter schools. The proposed increase in foundation funding was only 1.5% and 1.7% per year, per student, for public school students, but 5.2% and 1.7% for students in the voucher program. This is unacceptable. It’s the Senate’s turn to issue a budget proposal, and we need to see a 3% per year increase in foundation funding per student for the kids in our public schools—actual public schools which have a mandate to serve all children in our communities, schools in which our communities have a voice, schools which cannot counsel out or reject kids based on their special needs or religion or behavior.
After you’ve called Senator Mishler, call your own state senator at 317-232-9400 to say the same thing. And then ask your family and friends to do the same.