News From Terre Haute, Indiana

Flashpoint

April 7, 2011

FLASHPOINT: What is real education reform and who foots the bill?

The word “reform” is being used as a powerful tool in the current debate over the future of public schools in Indiana. What is being lost in all of the discussion is what reform really means. The word reform is being co-opted to push a political agenda that, in reality, has little to do with actual reform or improving public schools.

The current proposals in front of the legislature are not, in any way, shape or form, designed to help students — as real reform should be.

The truth is, these proposals are reflective of a purely political agenda and if passed, will have serious consequences on Hoosier public schools and Hoosier public school students.

If passed, Governor Daniels’ proposals will take money from public schools and give it to private, religious institutions that are not accountable to the taxpayers and will allow for the most liberal expansion of charter schools in the history of our state at a time when the research and the resources are not there to justify such extreme action.

Essentially, the Governor is demanding that our public schools accept another $170 million dollars in cuts just one year after he cut them by nearly $300 million-by the way, he is also telling us that this will increase test scores and boost student performance.

Do the proponents of these bills really believe that taking resources away from schools that are financially struggling will actually improve student achievement?

Common sense tells me otherwise.

I understand that that we, as adults, will have disagreements on policy issues from time to time, so for just a moment I would like to set aside the philosophical arguments about the current legislation. I want to ask a serious question that has yet to be answered by proponents of the current education-related bills. How do we pay for these proposals?

Let’s use a little Hoosier common sense here. If you want to go out and buy something new, you have to know where the money will come from first. This is a simple concept that families all across our state work with every day.

The same thing goes with new programs in public education. If you intend to implement new programs, the funding must come from somewhere. Given Indiana’s budget situation, Governor Daniels’ plan would either mean raising taxes (this is highly unlikely) to pay for taxpayer-funded private school vouchers, or require taking money from our public schools.

So the question is, where does the funding come from for Governor Daniels’ education proposals?

The answer is by taking funding from the same public schools that received nearly $300 million dollars in cuts just last year.

None of the current education-related bills has a direct funding mechanism attached to it. If the current bills pass as is, schools and students that are struggling already will bear the burden for the Governor’s reform proposals.

Does this sound like Hoosier common sense to you?

If Governor Daniels had a genuine desire to improve public schools in Indiana, he would work with educators, parents, communities and advocates to craft positive legislation that will help to improve educational outcomes.

These bills are not meant to improve our public schools, nor will they do so if passed. They are part of a political agenda that has little to do with helping Hoosier children and are far from reformative.

Real education reform focuses on students. This includes critical things like:

• Expanding early childhood education.

• Closing student achievement gaps.

• Reducing class sizes.

• Fully funding special education programs.

• Restoring curriculum offerings like art, music, P.E. and others.

• Providing for dropout prevention programs.

• Finally funding full-day kindergarten for our youngest learners.

In other words, real reform focuses on the things that actually help our children learn.

— Nate Schnellenberger

President, Indiana State Teachers Association

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