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The Journal Gazette

February 15, 2017 1:02 AM

Turn off the tap

Privatization effort too big a drain on schools

The New York Times reported this week on GOP legislative leaders in Kentucky, who reached out to other states to find out what to do with their newly won control of state government.

“Move quickly” was the response, Kentucky’s majority leader told the Times.

In their fifth year with supermajorities in both chambers, Indiana Republicans already knew the answer. But it’s the first year they’ve controlled the legislature and held the state superintendent’s office, so they are moving quickly to advance the school privatization aims they’ve pushed for more than a decade. Broad and costly expansions of the so-called Choice Scholarship program are found in multiple bills, including Senate Bill 534, which will be heard by the Senate Education and Career Development Committee this afternoon.

SB 534 carries a price tag of as much as $206 million a year, according to the nonpartisan Legislative Services Agency. Repackaged from last year’s unsuccessful “Educational Savings Accounts” to “Special Education Scholarship Accounts,” the intent is the same: Give parents an allotment of tax dollars to spend however they might choose. A companion bill in the House, HB 1591, carries an even more audacious price tag of as much as $366 million a year.

The bills ostensibly give parents the authority to decide how to educate their children, spending their government allotments on private schools, tutors or online instruction, with no accountability for the quality of the services. It’s a school-choice supporter’s dream and a taxpayer’s nightmare – unlimited opportunity for abuse, an invitation to corruption and a destructive blow to neighborhood schools.

The legislation even takes control of the education dollars from the Indiana Department of Education and hands it to the state treasurer, with authority to outsource management of the savings accounts to a private bank.

A spokesman for state Superintendent Jennifer McCormick said the DOE does not support the Senate bill, but he could not confirm whether a department representative would testify against it today. 

Lawmakers need to hear from taxpayers – quickly – that the privatization measures are too costly and too much.