Letter: State has duty to adequately fund public schools

To the editor:

As the former superintendent of Brown County Schools, I read Dr. Laura Hammack’s columns and any other school-related articles. From her Feb. 12 column, several points regarding proposed public education-related legislation, the Indiana General Assembly, and the Indiana Coalition for Public Education motivate me to write this letter.

First, isn’t it AN IRONY that an organization whose purpose it is to lobby the members of the General Assembly on public education-related laws exists and is even necessary? One of the primary CONSTITUTIONAL responsibilities of the General Assembly is to ADEQUATELY FUND PUBLIC SCHOOLS ON BEHALF OF THE WELFARE OF THE CHILDREN OF INDIANA. The facts are blatantly clear that the Republican supermajority members in the General Assembly are NOT FULFILLING THEIR CONSTITUTIONAL RESPONSIBILITY ON FUNDING PUBLIC SCHOOLS.

Over 50 percent of the public school corporations in Indiana are under some degree of financial stress. Remember that Brown County Schools have administered significant staffing reductions over the past three years and even in the years prior to Dr. Hammack’s appointment as superintendent. Staffing reductions put limits on programs available to our boys and girls and increase the size of classroom enrollments. This fact exists in coordination with the supermajority’s initiative which gives millions of dollars in the form of voucher credits to wealthy parents, whose children have NEVER ATTENDED PUBLIC SCHOOL.

Indiana leads the entire country in dollars allotted to voucher parents. Charter schools are not held to the same level of accountability as public schools. What does this say about the constitutional responsibility of the supermajority in the General Assembly?

The Indiana Coalition for Public Education lobbies for positive laws in support of public schools. Public education, which serves over 90 percent of the children of Indiana, has been under attack by the Republican majority since Governor Daniels was in office. He took control of the funding of public schools with the support of the Republican majority in the General Assembly by moving the funding of public school’s general funds completely under state authority, without any support from local property taxes. This virtually gave control to the state.

What have we received from this initiative? School districts throughout the state are cutting staff and cutting programs for our students. At the same time, millions of dollars are diverted annually to the voucher credit program. Virtually all of this voucher money goes to wealthy parents who were already paying tuition to send their children to private schools.

Who gets hurt? The 90-plus percent of our public school students, our local schools, and significantly, our teachers.

What is the result? Thousands of great teachers are leaving the profession, or they are not entering in the first place, leaving Indiana with a dramatic teacher shortage.

Let’s look at the laws Dr. Hammack mentioned in her article. HB 1001 to “hold harmless” our teachers for our students’ performance on the ILEARN test. The real issue here is that the ILEARN test is worthless in terms of providing student achievement data. At an annual cost of $45 million, we used a test that yielded no data. Now, the supermajority (whose gubernatorial and speaker-appointed state board of education mandated the ILEARN test) is generously not going to make this waste of time (AND $45 MILLION) a factor in teacher evaluation.

By the way the ENTIRE STATE TESTING PROGRAM SHOULD NEVER HAVE BEEN A PART OF TEACHER EVALUATION. The ISTEP/IREAD/ILEARN TESTING PROGRAM tells us the most economically affluent districts will achieve the most on the state tests.

The real story here is: WHO SHOULD BE HELD ACCOUNTABLE FOR THE $45 MILLION ILEARN BOONDOGGLE? I would suggest it is the governor and the Republican supermajority. They refuse to take and seriously consider recommendations from the REPUBLICAN STATE SUPERINTENDENT OF PUBLIC INSTRUCTION BECAUSE THEY BELIEVE THEY KNOW MORE THAN THE PROFESSIONAL EDUCATORS.

Along this same logic, they have taken the vote for state superintendent from Indiana’s voters, and as of November elections, made this position a gubernatorial appointment. When did taking a voted office and making it a political appointment become a conservative Republican tactic?

The old adage that “absolute power corrupts absolutely!” comes into my mind. There were 172 education-related bills still alive in the SHORT SESSION when Dr. Hammack wrote her column on Feb. 12. Not a single law addresses the need to appropriate more funding for teacher salaries. Virtually none are recommendations from Dr. Jennifer McCormick, the voter-elected head of education policy in Indiana.

I suppose these are the reasons we need a lobbying group to attempt to persuade the Republican supermajority to do its CONSTITUTIONAL DUTY AND ADEQUATELY FUND PUBLIC EDUCATION FOR our 90-plus percent of our Indiana children.

It is past time to make some changes in the people who are supposed to be serving our state, in my opinion.

David Shaffer, Nashville

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