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The Journal Gazette

Sunday, July 07, 2019 1:00 am

In budget pie, public schools given crumbs

Accountability still scant at virtual, charter sites

Phil GiaQuinta

Statehouse Republicans missed opportunities this legislative session to pass a budget that gives teachers the pay increase they deserve and truly invests in traditional public schools, where more than 93% of Hoosier students learn and grow.

That is not the story you will hear from the majority, as demonstrated in a June 30 Journal Gazette oped. To prove their point, Republicans like to show off a color-coded pie chart of the recently passed two-year budget that breaks down where your taxpayer dollars are being spent.

House Democrats will tell you that looks can be deceiving because nearly half of the education portion of the funding pie – baked with your taxpayer dollars – is giving unaccountable virtual schools a public funding increase of 15%, privately run charter schools a public funding increase of more than 20%, and privately run voucher schools a public funding increase of nearly 15% over the next two years.

Meanwhile, traditional public schools will see a funding increase of just about 2% each year, which narrowly hovers above the change in the cost of living – commonly known as the rate of inflation – from one year to the next.

Many schools, including Fort Wayne Community Schools, won't even reach that 2% threshold.

What does this all really mean?

In theory, it means less than 7% of Hoosier students in Indiana attending charter, virtual and voucher schools will get healthy slices from the education portion of the state funding pie, while more than 93% of Hoosier students attending traditional public schools will get crumbs and many Hoosier teachers will get nothing.

However, it gets worse. Virtual, charter and voucher schools are not held to the same accountability standards as traditional public schools, so it's hard to tell whether the 7% of students who attend these schools are even getting a taste of the pie, let alone their whole piece.

It's a real problem that we've seen play out recently across the state, especially in virtual schools. There have been examples of students enrolled who are not getting credit for the classes they are taking. There have been issues with teachers not logging on to teach the classes. We need to put laws in place to hold these schools accountable.

It also means that the tiny bump in funding for traditional public schools will result in more of the same: doing more with less.

That means school corporations will be left to find creative ways to get new textbooks in classrooms, recruit and retain teachers, and keep up with the costs of running their school buildings – think heat in the winter and air conditioning in the warmer months, as well as all of the other fun surprise costs found in buildings with old bones.

What did House Democrats do to fight back against all of this?

While Republicans have claimed they opened up vast new reserves of funding for paying teachers, the truth is a little less clear.

While laws were passed urging schools to pay their teachers more, districts are being forced to juggle the types of priorities just mentioned with a limited amount of new dollars.

During the most recent legislative session, House Democrats introduced a bill and two amendments that would have increased teacher pay in Indiana now, rather than waiting until the governor's Next Level Teacher Pay Commission – which has no teachers on it – finishes studying the issue in two years.

Rep. Gregory W. Porter, D-Indianapolis, simply asked that we provide the funding in the state budget to increase teacher pay by 5% over each of the next two years.

The amendment was voted down by Republicans on the House floor.

Led by State Rep. Ed DeLaney, D-Indianapolis, House Democrats offered a series of proposals seeking accountability for virtual, charter, and voucher schools.

None of those proposals were adopted into legislation by the supermajority.

What should you take away from this?

The majority prioritized private companies that run most of the virtual, charter and voucher schools across the state – with loose accountability measures – over Hoosier teachers and traditional public schools.

You should keep all of this in mind the next time they show you their pie chart. 

State Rep. Phil Gia-Quinta, D-Fort Wayne, is Indiana House minority leader.