The Journal Gazette
Tuesday, September 15, 2020 1:00 am


Grade card

Most area lawmakers fail in evaluation of support for public schools

A campaign mailer sent on behalf of an area legislator last week described him as “Getting results for our schools!” It attributed an increase in funding for Fort Wayne Community Schools since 2012 to the incumbent's leadership.

But the Republican Party's state election committee has a different measure of results than the Indiana Coalition for Public Education, which awarded that same lawmaker a D based on his votes on nine pieces of legislation. The coalition's legislative report card looked at bills “that diverted taxpayers' money away from public schools, damaged public control of education, or either supported or harmed public education.”

The Fort Wayne Republican wasn't the only member of the General Assembly to earn a D. All but one northeast Indiana Republican facing reelection earned Ds. Rep. Curt Nisly, R-Milford, earned a C. He bucked his party leaders in opposing House Bill 1005 in the 2019 session. The bill moved up the date for abolishing the elected office of the state superintendent of public instruction by four years. The bill was approved and the next governor will appoint a state schools chief effective Jan. 11, 2021.

House Minority Leader Phil Gia-Quinta, D-Fort Wayne, was the sole area lawmaker to earn an A. The only grade of F also went to an area lawmaker, Sen. Dennis Kruse, R-Auburn. He was the only member of the General Assembly to vote against this year's HB 1002, which suspends the requirement to use test scores as a measure on teacher evaluations. The legislation was introduced in the wake of the state's latest standardized testing debacle. ILEARN, the “computer-adaptive” test replacing ISTEP+, produced sharply decreased scores in the spring of 2019.

Kruse, former chairman of the Senate Education and Career Development Committee, isn't up for reelection this year.

The public education group's key bills included two that won unanimous support, with the exception of Kruse's vote. One was HB 1002 and the other was Senate Bill 2, which holds schools and school districts harmless from effects of the flawed ILEARN scores. 

“I think what we saw there was that all legislators saw the wisdom of approving those bills at this time,” said ICPE board member Marilyn Shank. “But it also demonstrates that we can, across party lines, find some common ground. And in those two bills, there was definitely some common ground and everybody saw the wisdom of it.”

The coalition is a bipartisan group, but it is decidedly partisan in its support for public education. The organization notes that vouchers paid out to private and parochial schools through the Indiana Choice Scholarship program diverted nearly $173 million from public schools in the most recent budget year. Cumulative spending on vouchers has now topped $1 billion.

“Despite the original premise for Indiana's voucher program to allow underprivileged students from underachieving public schools the opportunity to attend a private school, over half of all vouchers (60%) now go to students who never attended public schools and have always attended private schools,” the report card notes. “This fact means a good portion of the $172.8 million diverted to private schools last year is an extra fiscal cost to taxpayers for students who never started at public schools and whose private education previously was not the responsibility of taxpayers.”

The organization has an affiliated political action group. Hoosiers for Public Education certainly doesn't carry the same clout as the Indiana Republican State Committee, but it plans to endorse candidates in the Nov. 3 election. The report card is likely to carry much weight in determining who will get the best results for public schools.

On the web

Indiana Coalition for Public Education report card:

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