Skip to main content

The Journal Gazette

Tuesday, August 28, 2018 1:00 am

Editorial

Letter imperfect

Most lawmakers score low on public-school support

Report card

Letter grades measuring support for public education among area lawmakers seeking re-election

Sen. Liz Brown, R-Fort Wayne....................D

Rep. Martin Carbaugh, R-Fort Wayne.......D

Rep. Phil GiaQuinta, D-Fort Wayne...........A

Rep. Dave Heine, R-New Haven.................D

Sen. Travis Holdman, R-Markle..................D

Rep. Christopher Judy, R-Fort Wayne.......C

Sen. Dennis Kruse, R-Auburn.....................C

Rep. Matt Lehman, R-Berne.......................D

Rep. Dan Leonard, R-Huntington..............D

Rep. Bob Morris: R-Fort Wayne.................D

Rep. Curt Nisly, R-Goshen...........................B

Rep. Ben Smaltz, R-Auburn........................D

Rep. David Wolkins, R-Warsaw..................D

Sen. Andy Zay, R-Huntington....................D

Rep. Dennis Zent, R-Angola.......................D

The Indiana Coalition for Public Education is no fan of letter grades for schools. Its members – many of them educators – understand a letter grade is a flawed measure of academic quality. But the statewide organization also knows Indiana lawmakers love letter grades, so it assigned a letter to each one seeking re-election this year, based on the lawmaker's demonstrated support for public education.

“Since ICPE primarily focuses on issues relating to privatizing public schools, we based our report card on bills that diverted taxpayers' money away from public schools and sent it to private institutions or damaged public control of education,” explained Vic Smith, a co-founder and director, at the organization's annual meeting Saturday in Indianapolis. “Although legislators might claim it's unfair to assign letter grades based on a small portion of what they do, that is exactly what Indiana does to schools across the state when it bases schools' letter grades largely on one standardized test.”

Grade performance had a strong link to party affiliation. There were straight A's for Democratic incumbents, but Sen. Jim Tomes of Wadesville was the only Republican to earn an A and Rep. Curt Nisly of Goshen was the only Republican to earn a B.

Support for public education was evaluated by votes on six key bills:

• House Bill 1001, the 2017 budget bill, was opposed by the coalition. It increased support for private-school tax credit scholarships by 19 percent while giving publicly funded K-12 schools increases of only 1.6 percent in the 2018 fiscal year and 1.7 percent in 2019.

• HB 1005, also approved in 2017, stripped the right of Indiana voters to elect the state superintendent of public instruction.

• HB 1384, which went into effect a year ago, eliminated the requirement for private schools to become accredited before accepting taxpayer-funded vouchers.

• Senate Bill 30, another 2017 bill, was a welcome transparency bill. Sponsored bySen. Dennis Kruse, R-Auburn, it requires the Department of Education to report where voucher students who live in each public school district attend private school.

• HB 1001, from the last session, was quickly approved to fix a $100 million funding shortfall when public school enrollment last year far exceeded estimates. A vote in support of the measure boosted most Republican lawmakers from a failing grade to a D.

• HB 1315 was approved in a special session after the GOP-controlled legislature failed to finish work on time. It handed oversight of Muncie Community Schools to Ball State University and gave expanded authority to an emergency manager overseeing Gary Community Schools. Local control of both districts was largely removed and Ball State was exempted from most laws governing public schools, including a bullying prevention law.

In addition to unveiling its report card, the coalition heard remarks from U.S. Sen. Joe Donnelly, who won applause with comments strongly opposing public support of private education through federal tax credits.

“Because of tax credits that were just put through, we have a deficit of over a trillion dollars,” he said. “Those students you look at? What they don't know is that every day they walk into the classroom, the bill they will pay is higher and higher. So, No. 1, doing the credits doesn't make any sense. No. 2, we can't afford to do it anyhow.”

Donnelly's Republican challenger, Mike Braun, was invited but his campaign cited a schedule conflict.

The coalition members also heard a rallying cry from Jennifer McCormick, state superintendent of public education, who said the Department of Education is pulling data together to make its pitch for the next legislative budget session.

“We need help with that – we need a voice from the (education) field,” she said. “You know your local legislators. There's not much of a voice from the field.”

Given the preponderance of D and F grades for support of public education,McCormick is right: Indiana lawmakers aren't getting the message.