Two observations from Wednesday night's town hall meeting at IPFW, featuring House Speaker Brian Bosma:
1) There is something very alarming about the fact that the author of the state's sweeping charter school bill does not know that some Indiana charter schools are operated by for-profit enterprises. Brian Bosma repeatedly made the assertion that charter schools are nonprofit organizations.
Bosma also seemed to be unaware of any questions about the operation of Imagine Inc., which operates four of Indiana's 62 charter schools. When Journal Gazette reporters examined the local operations, they learned Indiana taxpayers were paying $740,000 a year to rent one school property, with the payments going to a for-profit real estate company.
Nor does the speaker understand charter school performance results. He bristled when I asked him to comment on a table showing that charter schools clearly trail traditional public schools in percentage of students passing both the English and math portions of ISTEP+. He tried to suggest it was an unfair comparison – districts to schools – but that point actually strengthens the case made by ISTA. In outperforming 32 individual charter schools, for example, Fort Wayne Community Schools had to post higher composite scores at 42 elementary and middle schools.
2) Indiana teachers are foolishly focusing their opposition on charter school expansion when Bosma's voucher bill presents a much greater danger to Indiana public schools. In spite of his assertion that the voucher bill is aimed at helping low-income families, it currently makes vouchers available to families earning up to $105,000 a year. Perhaps Speaker Bosma and Gov. Mitch Daniels consider that to be low-income. When questioned about the amount, state Superintendent Tony Bennett told me today it was roughly the combined income of two Indiana public school teachers at the top end of the salary scale.
The fiscal impact statement on the voucher bill estimates that every 1,000 vouchers will reduce support to public schools statewide by more than $5.5 million. At that rate, it won't take long for public schools resources to be drained away.