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Voucher proponents morality play

The House Education Committee heard testimony throughout this morning on House Bill 1003, the voucher program supported by Gov. Mitch Daniels and state Superintendent Tony Bennett.

Listening to several hours of testimony and questioning – the vast majority of it by Democratic committee members – made it clear that minds are pretty well set. Proponents of the bill are doing an effective job of framing the debate in moral terms, presenting anecdotal examples of poor children fortunate enough to escape public schools for a caring, nurturing private or parochial school.

The opponents are doing a much less-effective job in making a moral argument, although I'm not sure why. Public school teachers, more than anyone else, know that the kids who will get vouchers are the ones who already are doing well in school. They have parents who are engaged and interested in education and who will support them in whatever educational setting. The moral case needs to be made for the students whose parents aren't involved. Those children didn't get to choose their parents and they won't get to choose a school. Instead, they will be left in a system with dollars draining to private and parochial schools.

The headmaster for The Oaks Academy, the faith-based K-8 school supported by the governor, admitted that his school had a single admission requirement: Each student must have a committed adult supportive of his or her learning.

Sadly, there are Hoosier children who would be turned away from The Oaks Academy for that very reason. Until every parent in Indiana is committed to supporting their children's learning, it would seem that the obligation of Indiana lawmakers is to ensure the "system of Common Schools" prescribed in our state constitution is strong enough to help those children succeed and to become supportive adults themselves.

Karen Francisco, editorial page editor for The Journal Gazette, has been an Indiana journalist since 1981. She writes frequently about education for The Journal Gazette opinion pages and here, where she looks at the business, politics and science of learning as it relates to northeast Indiana, the state and the nation. She can be reached at 260-461-8206 or by e-mail at kfrancisco@jg.net.

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