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Policing the rush to charter schools

Knowledge and learning, generally diffused throughout a community, being essential to the preservation of a free government; it shall be the duty of the General Assembly to encourage, by all suitable means, moral, intellectual, scientific, and agricultural improvement; and provide, by law, for a general and uniform system of Common Schools, wherein tuition shall be without charge, and equally open to all.

– Indiana Constitution

For perspective on Gov. Mitch Daniels’ education policy, consider the ramifications if a similar policy applied to Indiana’s city police departments.

After all, the police departments clearly are failing. Each week, dozens of crimes occur in our city, and many of them go unsolved. As Hoosiers, we cannot allow this record of failure to continue. Remember when we were kids? We could walk to the park without our parents. We could leave our doors unlocked. Clearly, the police departments have gotten worse and worse.

What we need is to give police departments competition and to give citizens choices.

Indiana should empower a university with a criminal justice program – say, Indiana Tech – to authorize charter police departments. Citizens could choose to have the charter department, not city police, patrol by their homes and answer their calls for help.

But that’s not enough. Rich people can hire security guards. Why shouldn’t all Hoosiers have the same access to safety? Let’s give every Hoosier who wants one a voucher financed with our tax dollars to purchase their own security if they choose.

Of course, there will be no tax increase to finance these additional police forces, so money will have to come out of the city police department budget. Because the vast majority of that budget goes to salaries and wages, that will mean eliminating positions on the city police department. Liberals may argue that fewer police officers will make city police even worse. But all the city police need to do is look for efficiencies.

One way to hold the line on the city police budget is by stopping the huge pay increases officers receive every year – 1 percent in 2011 alone. Police officers should be paid based on their success – the crime rates in the neighborhoods they patrol, for example. Higher pay where crime rates are low, lower pay where they are worse.

If that were the state’s approach to police departments, Hoosiers would quickly see some of the faults.

For one, the historic increases in crime have much more to do with society than police departments. And in recent years, crime has not been increasing substantially. And most Hoosiers go through the day without being crime victims.

Hoosiers would surely see the unfairness of paying police officers who patrol the most dangerous, crime-ridden neighborhoods less than the officers who have the safest streets.

Daniels has long called for greater government efficiency, going as far as to advocate for school corporations to consolidate.

Where is the logic in spreading limited state money to more and more schools, each with its own principal, its own bureaucracy?

There is a fundamental unfairness in this comparison, however. Nearly all of our elected leaders consider running police departments a clear function of government. Practically anyone, it seems, can start a school.

Yet, Indiana’s constitution makes no requirement that cities have police departments – or fire departments or street departments or zoning departments. The state’s constitution makes clear, though, that it is a fundamental obligation of Indiana to provide an education through a system of public schools.

Why would elected Indiana leaders want the state to transfer resources from the public schools, for which they have a constitutional obligation, to private schools for which Indiana has no obligation?

Perhaps our state leaders should focus on better meeting their constitutional mandate to provide education through a system of common schools rather than to encourage parents not to send their children to those very schools.

Tracy Warner, editorial page editor, has worked at The Journal Gazette since 1981. He can be reached at 461-8113 or by e-mail, twarner@jg.net.

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