The Journal Gazette
Tuesday, March 15, 2016 3:38 pm

Indiana public schools on death march

Vic Smith

Two bills have been filed that would create the biggest expansion of private school vouchers Indiana has ever seen. They would advance the privatization of our educational system in line with the plans of voucher-inventor Milton Friedman, who supported the abolishment of public education.

I didn’t think that the Republican supermajority would make a direct attack on public education in an election year, but it appears the Republican leadership is poised to push forward a radical new private school voucher plan. It would be the biggest voucher expansion since Gov. Mike Pence’s voucher plan costing taxpayers $40 million in new dollars and diverting $120 million from public schools was enacted in 2013.

House Bill 1311 and Senate Bill 397 have not been scheduled for a hearing yet, but they should be denounced now by all public school advocates to any and all legislators. HB 1311 is a voucher experiment for all students and SB 397 is a voucher experiment for special education students.

These new experiments with our schoolchildren would undermine funding and support for the public schools of Indiana, which after five years of school choice have still been chosen by 94 percent of all students and need the support of legislators, not another attack.

These damaging bills have been passed in some form in Arizona, Florida, Nevada, Mississippi and Tennessee – all states that perform below Indiana on the National Assessment of Educational Progress, the respected national measure known as “the nation’s report card.”

HB 1311 and Senate Bill 397 are right out of Milton Friedman’s plan to take public schools out of our society and leave education to a marketplace of private schools, all funded by the taxpayers but without government oversight.

Both bills are innocently labeled Education Savings Accounts. They give money directly to parents in the amount that the average child gets in their school district. Parents can then pay for private schools or “participating entities,” including tutors or other private vendors.

The program is to be run by the Indiana state treasurer, not the Indiana Department of Education. HB 1311 even authorizes the treasurer to outsource the program to be run by a bank. Are they serious? This means they want to privatize management of the privatized voucher program! It’s simply over the top.

Not all Republicans in Indiana agree with the Republican leaders bringing these radical bills forward to further privatize our schools. These bills should not be given a hearing. Only grassroots citizens talking to their legislators can stop these bills and the death spiral for public education. It is time to speak up!

The loss of funding and instability this would bring to public schools would obviously disrupt their ability to provide long-term quality programs for over 1 million Hoosier students.

Most legislators you may contact will probably not have heard of these bills and their details. You will need to inform them of their radical provisions. Help legislators understand that advancing these damaging bills could hurt the supermajority brand in an election year among teachers and parents who are already angry about the ISTEP+ problems.

HB 1311 and SB 397 should disappear from consideration while all efforts are focused on solving the complexities of Indiana’s assessment problems.

Milton Friedman, the inventor of private school vouchers, in a speech to state lawmakers at the American Legislative Exchange Council in 2006, answered his own question of “How do we get from where we are to where we want to be?” by saying “the ideal way would be to abolish the public school system and eliminate all the taxes that pay for it.”

HB 1311 and SB 397 would help his plan to abolish public schools.

Vic Smith began his 40-year career in public education at Garrett-Keyser-Butler Schools and retired as associate director of the Indiana Urban Schools Association in 2009. He wrote this for the Indiana Coalition for Public Education.

Subscribe to our newsletters

* indicates required