Eric Holcomb Charter Schools

The Indiana Legislature’s Failing Grade in Support of Public Education (Part 1)

When nearly 20,000 public education advocates demonstrated at the Capitol building last November, several legislators, including Ed Soliday, were puzzled, considering that the budget that had been passed the previous April included additional spending for education. While funding is part of the reason those demonstrators were there, several other issues in education, particularly public education, have caused teachers, public school board members, administrators, parents, civic leaders, even local business owners to speak up in support of public education. In order to understand what is happening, we need to understand a little history.

In 1983 President Reagan’s Commission for Excellence in Education released a study called “A Nation at Risk: The Imperative for Education Reform.” This document concluded that American schools were failing, and that American students were falling behind the world in education achievement. To be fair, there were some areas of hard truth in that report, but the study had some flaws that rendered many findings incorrect or overstated. Nevertheless, the document set off a series of education reforms over the ensuing 35+ years that have changed the face of education for K-12 students in dramatic and unimaginable ways. Among the leaders of those education reforms were people who believed that privatization was the best option for improving education. Frighteningly, some of those same reformers even doubted the wisdom of educating every child.

Here in Indiana, as in every other state, we have seen the results of these reforms: Charter schools, Common Core Curriculums, Voucher Programs, teacher evaluation systems, increased testing of students, teacher evaluations tied to student test results, school and district “grades”, fewer special education programs, fewer students qualifying for special education services due to raised thresholds for qualifications, teacher pay tied to student achievement and test scores, and so on.

All of that brings us up to November 19, 2019 in Indianapolis. I’m certain there are 20,000 different specific reasons why those public school supporters showed up that day, but there’s no doubt in my mind that all those reasons share one root cause: these so-called reforms have caused significant problems in our public schools over the past 35+ years, and today, our students are suffering. I will cover how the reforms have damaged public schools in a future post.

There was real outrage in November, though, and here is why those 20,000 people showed up. That increase in education that the legislators put in the budget? It was also allocated by the legislators in a very specific way. Here is how they allocated it:

School Type 2020 Funding Increase 2021 Funding Increase
Charter Schools 10.30% 10.47%
Voucher Schools 9.28% 5.60%
Virtual Schools 5.25% 9.14%
Public Schools 2.06% 2.07%

90% of all Hoosier students attend traditional Public Schools! This is why public school advocates showed up to the Capitol. As the educators on the front lines with your students every single day, we know the commitment that the governor and the legislature need to make to truly support public education and the children served by the public education system, and we know this isn’t it.