Monday, March 5, 2012

Public education is under attack

...from the Indiana Coalition for Public Education -- Monroe County and South Central Indiana

Guest Column
Public education is under attack. Reformers, driven by private, free-market profiteers and by the politicians whose pockets are lined with their money, are seeking to undermine and weaken our public schools.

In 2011, the Indiana Legislature adopted the nation’s most comprehensive “school choice” program whereby all parents may now take a standard deduction of up to $1000 per child for private school expenditures. Among the many benefits to private schools and their supporters are the vouchers or “Choice Scholarships.”

Last year more than 3,900 vouchers were granted by the Indiana Department of Education at an average value of $4,150. This year 15,000 vouchers will be available. Next year, there will be no legal limit. Every dollar of voucher money is subtracted from our schools’ general fund, money that supports the ECAs for thousands of students, helps control class size, and provides special programs for special needs children, among countless other benefits. The state keeps any overage between the cost of the voucher and the state per-pupil support. The public school keeps nothing. Parents are left with paying for lost or reduced services and programs, either directly or through referenda.

Vouchers to private schools erode local control over how taxpayer money is spent. Transparency and open records for voucher schools are not covered by the same state rules as for public schools. Private schools can essentially choose which students will be welcome. If a child has a learning disability or has English as a new language, private schools are not required to admit them. Public schools are open to all. Public schools’ mission is to educate each and every child who walks through their doors.

Here is the big question: who benefits from this legislation? Unsurprisingly, the forces backing vouchers stand to make an enormous profit. To them, the nation’s $600 billion public education pie is there for untold profit. Slick marketing, accompanied by the endless repetition of “failure, failure, failure,” attempts to shape the argument in their favor. They use the inadequate education of the poor, the underserved and neglected urban municipalities as their justification for vouchers and private schools. These efforts are funded and supported by the test and textbook industries, the data and tech firms, corporate contractors and hedge fund managers selling stock in companies managing private, profit-generating charter schools. The major contributors to the campaigns of Tony Bennett and Mitch Daniels (see, for example, HERE) tell the whole story.

Public schools are succeeding. Our Indiana schools are at or near their highest scores ever in attendance rates, SAT math, ACT, National Assessment, ISTEP+, and percentage earning Academic Honors diplomas and Core 40 diplomas (ICPE website). But our students are more than just test scores. They are children of diverse backgrounds, abilities and needs who are learning in an increasingly pressured and stressful environment. The caring and dedicated teachers and administrators who are facilitating this growth are doing an amazing job, given the enormous constraints placed on them by legislators who know nothing about education or child development. Should our schools be taken over by for-profit companies? Should the dollar become the bottom line?

The Indiana Coalition for Public Education (ICPE), Monroe County, has been recently formed. We are a bi-partisan, non-profit organization whose purpose is to support public education and oppose any public policy which detracts from that purpose. Only through the concerted effort of organized parents and citizens across the state can we stop big money and special interests from overtaking the cornerstone of our democracy: the public schools.

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