Op-ed column from State Rep. Phil GiaQuinta: Our priority should be the children, not the institution

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INDIANAPOLIS - The op-ed column below was issued today (March 19, 2021) by State Rep. Phil GiaQuinta (D-Fort Wayne), who serves as the Indiana House Democratic Leader. GiaQuinta's remarks address his views on House Bill 1005, which seeks to expand Indiana's education voucher system:

 

There are certain things you can count on if you observe the Indiana General Assembly long enough. The legislative session will begin in January, end in the spring and in between those dates, Statehouse Republicans will aim to shift more and more state tax dollars away from the local public schools educating roughly 90% of Hoosier students and towards unaccountable private schools that educate less than 4% of those students.

The latest effort from Republican lawmakers comes in the form of House Bill (HB) 1005, a piece of legislation with a hefty price tag that further pushes the boundaries of K-12 school privatization in Indiana. HB 1005 will result in over $66 million in direct costs to the state, and $70.2 million in decreased funding for public schools over the next two years.

All of this despite insufficient evidence to suggest that students attending private schools through the state’s “choice scholarship” program perform better or have a higher college acceptance rate than those who attend traditional public schools.

When it was first established in 2011, Indiana’s “Choice Scholarship” program was billed as a way to assist low-income families trapped in failing schools.

Now, fast forward ten years, where HB 1005 intends to expand what was already the nation’s largest voucher program to a level where a family of four could earn nearly double the state’s median family income and still be eligible for $5,500 in private school vouchers per child.

What are the consequences of further voucher expansion? The diffusion of Indiana’s investment in K-12 education has resulted in Indiana spending 7% less per student in 2018 than we did back in 2004.

The price tag for Indiana’s voucher system soaring to around $200 million per year, it takes critical money off of the table for a needed investment for teacher pay. Indeed, Indiana now ranks last in the Midwest in average teacher salary. Keep in mind that the Governor’s Teacher Compensation Commission recommends an investment of $600 million in order to make teacher pay competitive with our Midwest neighbors.

The voucher system in Indiana is 10 years old now, and has grown colossally every two years. Instead of taking a real up-close look at its effects on student success, Statehouse Republicans are doubling and even tripling down on blindly piling more and more money into this program. That does not sit right with me.

The future of our economy will rely on a well-educated and skilled workforce. Unfortunately, the current course of education policy in Indiana is not steering us toward a very bright future. Without strong public schools (where most children are taught) and talented educators, our students simply will not make the grade.

That is why House Democrats will continue to fight for Hoosier children and their local public schools this legislative session and oppose unproven education efforts like HB 1005 that siphon more dollars away from those schools. Indiana’s future depends on it.

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