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FWCS opposes plan to expand vouchers

Fort Wayne school board members on Monday reviewed pending state legislation and decided to oppose expansion of Indiana’s voucher program.

The Fort Wayne Community Schools board voted in favor of a resolution to oppose House Bill 1003, stating that any expansion of the voucher program “diverts funding from FWCS without regard to the quality of FWCS instruction.”

The resolution passed 6-1, with board member Lisa Olinger voting against it.

Olinger questioned why the board waited so long into the legislative session to create the resolution and explained that the written opposition sounded more like the district was “whining.”

Board members discussed how, if passed, the bill could increase taxpayer funding for parochial and private schools by an estimated $21 million dollars, while not providing additional funds for public schools.

Board President Mark GiaQuinta said he hopes the resolution will not only prevent the expansion of vouchers, but will also encourage lawmakers to send the bill to a study committee that would evaluate the effectiveness and impact that vouchers have on students and the Fort Wayne community.

Kathy Friend, chief financial officer for Fort Wayne schools, told the board that one of the challenging parts of the current voucher program is that there’s no restriction on which schools students with vouchers are leaving from.

For example, Friend said, about 30 students who had been attending Arlington Park Elementary School, an A-rated school based on the state’s A-F accountability system, left to attend private schools.

Due to the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act, the district cannot be sure which students left with vouchers, but they can determine how many left to seek a private school education, she said.

“There is no criteria in the law that says you have to leave a low-performing school with a voucher which was initially how this voucher program was sold,” Friend said. “That it was for poor students who were at low-performing schools to go to high-performing schools. That’s disappointing to us.”

A copy of the resolution was presented to Randy Borror of Bose Public Affairs Group who will speak in opposition to the bill Wednesday as it comes before the Senate for discussion. Borror is a former legislator.

The board pays the lobbying group $50,400 annually to monitor education legislation and advocate for the district during the current legislative session, Friend said.

Also on Monday, the board discussed pending legislation related to early education scholarship programs, the sale of public school buildings and a bill to alter the timeline for implementing Common Core Standards.

Superintendent Wendy Robinson praised the board for leading the way for other districts in monitoring legislation and ensuring that Fort Wayne schools “continue to have a place at the table when legislators start cutting the pie.”