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The Journal Gazette

Tuesday, May 24, 2016 9:13 am

FWCS members stand against vouchers

Niki Kelly | The Journal Gazette

Things have gotten a bit testy between several members of the Fort Wayne Community Schools board and the Friedman Foundation for Educational Choice.

Last week the foundation sent a new report extolling the virtues of vouchers via email to Mark GiaQuinta, president of the Fort Wayne Community Schools board.

He responded with "more distortions and lies."

That's when Jennifer Wagner got involved - a well-known Democrat who has bucked her party's stand against the state-paid vouchers that largely go to religious-based private schools.

She is now the Vice President of Communications for Friedman, and responded "Hi, Mark. Thanks for the thoughtful and constructive feedback on an issue that’s very important to the roughly 4,700 Fort Wayne families who are using Indiana's voucher program."

GiaQuinta didn't hold back in his response to Wagner - saying " it is very important to those desiring a religious education at taxpayer expense. You know it and I know it. Fewer than 10 percent of the recipients ever attended a public school. Congratulations for taking funds to educate the poor. You people are despicable."

He stood by those words Monday when contacted by the Journal Gazette, saying "I have the right and will exercise my right to speak personally on any topic involving my state and community.

"My opinion is that the voucher program purporting to save poor kids from failing public schools is a despicable fraud and a scam...It is a scam because the scholarship program is being used to fix churches rather than educate children. And it is despicable because the underprivileged who so desperately need the funding for the quality education we provide are losing out to middle class suburban kids.  I stand behind every word of this."

FWCS Board member Julie Hollingsworth also got involved, sending Wagner a note about a Friedman event in Fort Wayne last Thursday that she attended. She noted most of the presentation was respectful until Wagner repeated what she deemed a common untruth - that kids with vouchers left traditional public schools that were failing and kids couldn't read.

Hollingsworth noted that vouchers were sold as a way to help students in failing school in Gary and Indianapolis. Meanwhile, FWCS made adequate yearly progress and received an A.

"Then FWCS lost three times more students leaving A schools with a voucher than left D schools. There is something else going on...I suppose your usual crowd buys the "failing public school" line but here in Fort Wayne we know differently."

Wagner replied by saying she worked for IPS for seven months, "which thankfully is reform-minded and wants to make sure the district offers competitive options to students. The innovative approach happening in IPS right now is something I hope you'll consider adopting in Fort Wayne."

Hollingsworth took umbrage, noting " Respectfully, do you know enough about Fort Wayne Community Schools to imply that the district is not being innovative? You might be surprised if you learned more."

Nkelly@jg.net