Shaw Friedman: Why the GOP assault on public schools?
Thursday, May 28, 2015 10:01 AM
LaPORTE – Once it was different growing up in Indiana. Mainstream Republicans, while they were never close to the teachers’ unions, tended to understand that the success of public schools was critically tied in to our state’s success.
Whether it was a Richard Lugar who first got involved with Indianapolis public schools or Doc Bowen and then Bob Orr with his “A+” commitment to funding K-12, there was a broad, bipartisan consensus around supporting public schools. Toss in revered Republican lawmakers like State Sen. Virginia Blankenbaker from Indianapolis or the late Phyllis Pond from the Fort Wayne area, you could count on mainstream Republican support for funding our public schools. Not any more.
Hard to believe that our current governor proposed only $200 million in new school money, with nearly all of it directed at corporate-run charter schools as well as the state’s private school voucher program at the expense of traditional public schools. The governor’s budget guru back in January, Chris Atkins, was quoted as saying the governor’s office was most concerned that some “high quality charter operators,” translated big bucks education corporations, “are not willing to look at investing here because of our charter financing system.” Huh? When did we have to start worrying about some out-of-state for-profit education firms needing subsidies?
The Indiana House Republican budget was so badly tilted toward wealthier school districts, it practically screamed out for correction. Had that first GOP House budget passed untouched, two of the wealthiest school districts in the state, Zionsville and Carmel, would have seen large increases in basic education aid while needy districts like Indianapolis, Gary or Hammond got zapped. Where’s the equity or fairness in that?
Even though the State Senate tweaked the punitive House budget and increased the public schools’ share somewhat, the final budget still punishes public schools. What’s the matter with Dr. Tim Brown, the Scrooge who runs House Ways & Means, with comments like, “Did Mary’s mother get arrested the night before? Did Johnny not come with shoes to school? Those to me are not core issues of education.”
Sorry, Tim, those ARE core issues. If our kids in public schools are coming from broken homes, homes where families can’t get a decent living wage or can’t provide the basics, then kids are coming to our public schools in need of help, remediation and support. I can’t imagine Doc Bowen or Dick Lugar ever offering a similar asinine comment like Tim Brown’s remarks that practically scream out, “I’ve got mine. Tough luck if you can’t get yours.”
Why are we spending $2.8 million to provide scholarship tax breaks to Hoosiers earning $100,000 or more a year? How about it, Tim? Most obscene is we’re spending $100 million in Hoosier tax dollars to subsidize private schools as well as contracts with for-profit, out-of-state corporate school takeover providers. As Cathy Fuentes-Rohwer of Bloomington, chair of the Indiana Coalition for Public Education, wrote eloquently in a recent Op/Ed: “Children who are hungry or living in a car really do have a difficult time paying attention to long division. The new budget gives more dollars to the wealthiest districts while decreasing the aid to the least. Teachers are losing control over what goes on in the classroom because of test-driven “accountability” and most haven’t had a raise in years. Teachers know best how to educate kids.”
Despite the governor’s out of touch comments that this past session was the “education session, ” those in the know decry the modern Indiana GOP’s war on public education. There was a reason that thousands came to the Statehouse in February to support traditional public education, which is the backbone of our democracy. Doug Ross of the Times of Northwest Indiana stated the case well when he wrote that “the perception is that Gov. Pence wants to privatize public education. He didn’t help convince anyone otherwise when his budget gave more per pupil to charter schools than traditional public schools.”
Education session, huh? We all got educated as to the lengths that some Indiana Republicans are willing to go to punish and impede the work of educators in our public schools. That’s the lesson that needs to be remembered in 2016.
Shaw Friedman is former legal counsel for the Indiana Democratic Party