The Brown County Schools Board of Trustees has joined more than 170 other public school boards in Indiana in opposing legislation that expands funding for private schools.
The resolution the school board passed on March 25 opposes the creation of education savings accounts and an expansion of the state’s voucher program.
On March 19, the Indiana School Boards Association reported that 170 school boards — serving 650,000 students — had adopted resolutions opposing those programs which are supported by members of the Indiana General Assembly. The ESAs would allow families to use tax dollars that could go to public schools to spend on private schooling.
This is the first time in recent history that the local school board has signed a resolution opposing proposed legislation at the state level. In the past, members have called legislators individually to express concern about public education funding in the state, according to David Shaffer, Brown County Schools superintendent from 2008 to 2016.
House Bill 1005, Senate Bill 412 and Senate Bill 413 expand Indiana’s private school voucher program to more families, including families making well above the state’s median household income. The bills also create ESAs, according to the Indianapolis Star.
The Senate’s version of the ESA program bill never made it out of the Senate. SB 413, which expands the voucher program, was set to have a hearing the House education committee last week, the Star reported.
HB 1005, or the school choice bill, passed the House and was assigned to the Senate’s education committee, but that bill will not get a hearing. The bill includes both expanding the voucher program and creating ESAs for families.
The chair of that committee, Sen. Jeff Raatz said in a March 29 Star story that there was no need to have a hearing on the bill because the ideas within it had received a public hearing and were amended into the state’s budget bill, or HB 1001.
But it also means that the full Senate will never take a vote on the ESA proposal outside of the when it votes on the state’s entire two-year spending plan, according to the Star.
There would be no limit on the number of students who can participate in the ESA program, according to the Indiana State School Boards Association.
The budget the House approved includes spending an additional $144 million over the next two years on the voucher program and ESAs, the ISBA states. This is expected to result in the number of private school vouchers funded by the state to increase 34 percent by fiscal year 2023.
“(The Indiana General Assembly) should continue to promote and fully invest in Indiana’s public schools,” states the Brown County school board resolution.
The resolution was prepared by the board in partnership with the Brown County Educators Association and was approved unanimously at the March 25 board meeting.
“On behalf of the educators association, we’re very grateful to have a board that is expressing their support for our public schools like this,” said BCEA President Kristi Billings, a local teacher.
Once signed, the school board’s resolution will be sent to Rep. Chris May and Sen. Eric Koch, who represent Brown County, along with education committees in the House and Senate.
The resolution included specific ways the state should consider investing taxpayer dollars, including providing more money to improve public schools and paying teachers more like Gov. Eric Holcomb’s Teacher Compensation Commission report suggested.
Last February, Holcomb created a statewide commission to study teacher pay and then make recommendations. Recommendations in the 97-page report were separated into two sections: for public schools to implement and for state government to implement.
Hammack reported earlier this year that Brown County Schools had already implemented most of the 13 recommendations for public schools over the last five years, including passing an operating referendum. Most of that money has been going toward raises for certified and non-certified staff for the past five years.
Indiana ranks 38th out of the 50 states and Washington, D.C., for its average starting teacher salary, which is $36,498, and average teacher salary, at $51,119. The compensation commission determined that the average teacher salary should be $60,000 per year to make Indiana competitive.
The school board’s resolution says that public and nonpublic schools receiving state funding are not held to the same standards.
“Public schools are required to operate in an open, transparent way with all expenditures and decision making. Nonpublic schools are not held to that same public standard,” it states.
The resolution also suggests that legislators should “reduce the over regulation of state and federal bureaucracy that hinders the ability of local schools to innovate and be responsive to parent and community needs.”
Covering the costs of an education savings account and expanding school vouchers will come from the state’s tuition support fund, which also funds public schools and helps pay teachers. Brown County and other school districts receive money from the state for each student who attends school there. As enrollment decreases, so does that funding.
The school board’s resolution concludes that if education savings accounts are created and vouchers are expanded, it would put the “strong educational environment” public schools provide at risk by giving more resources to nonpublic or home schools that are “not subject to the same rigorous scrutiny for their use of taxpayer resources.”
School board President Carol Bowden said it is important to her that no matter the organization the taxpayer money goes to, that each one is “under the same, equal scrutiny and standards and accountability no matter what the entity is.”
“Taxation without representation,” added board member Stephanie Kritzer.
Board member Steve Miller Jr. reiterated that public and private schools do not “have the same rule book.”
“Public schools have 1,600 pages of rules. Private schools have 90 pages,” he said.
The board’s newest member, Amy Oliver, said she appreciated the board being proactive by passing this resolution and making their voices heard.
“The fact is having school boards across the state, large and small, all saying, ‘Don’t do this. This is a bad idea,’ just really shows — and I’ll state my personal opinion here — that the legislature is not following what the citizens want and what the school boards are telling them,” Oliver said, “from the superintendents, from the school boards across the state as well as the citizens and parents. And that is just a travesty.”
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