One sentence in Indiana House Bill 1003 has divided Indiana state government: “Provides scholarships to low income students to pay the costs of tuition and fees at a public or private elementary school or high school that charges tuition.”
That phrase in the “voucher bill,” which would for the first time extend taxpayer dollars to pay for education in private schools, along with House Bill 1002, the “charter schools bill,” which would create more charter schools even though the majority of them are failing, has sent Republicans fuming into one corner and Democrats across state lines into another.
While Indiana Gov. Mitch Daniels and other proponents of his education reform package say the voucher and charter bills would fix underperforming public schools, critics of the legislation take issue with that argument for several reasons.
Under the voucher bill, known as School Scholarships, a student can apply for $4,500 in tuition assistance to attend a private or parochial (religious) school. A student who resides in one school district can attend a school in another district, provided the receiving school has open enrollment.
Lawrence finds bills lacking
Lawrence Township Schools found that if the voucher and charter school bills passed it would cost their and other public districts millions of dollars. For example, in the 2009-2010 school term, 214 students returned from a charter school to the Metropolitan School District of Lawrence Township; another 78 students started at a charter school, but returned to Lawrence Township after “count day” at the start of the school term.
Total loss in revenue for Lawrence Township Schools because of students leaving for charter schools and students subsequently returning to the district: $435,992. Opponents of the charter bill also contend that many charter schools are not doing so good.
According to a 2009 Stanford University study, 37 percent of charter school students performed significantly below traditional students, 46 percent of charter school students demonstrated no significant difference in performance, and 17 percent of charter school students performed significantly better than traditional students. In Marion County, almost three-fourths of charter schools are not performing adequately.
Lawrence Township Schools reported in a parental guide entitled “School Choice: What does it mean?” that 14 of 20 charter schools in Marion County who participated in a survey did not make the Adequate Yearly Progress (AYP) standard that is required by state education guidelines.
The charter school bill would remove caps on the number of charters that could be established; create a charter school board; expand who could sponsor a charter; permit charters to rent a public school building for $1 per year while the district would still have to maintain parts of a school that is used by a charter.
Vouchers would cost millions
The voucher bill, called “Student Scholarships,” is even more contentious.” Opponents of that bill vehemently object to the legislation’s provision that would take money from public schools and give it to private schools. As it stands now, the bill would let a family of four with an income of nearly $102,000 to qualify for vouchers.
“According to what we’ve seen written in the bill, if one percent of eligible IPS students accept the voucher, our district would lose $2.5 million,” said Indianapolis Public Schools spokeswoman Mary Louise Bewley. Language in the voucher bill also would take money from IPS and other districts and redistribute it to charter schools for transportation, Bewley noted.
“We are not against charter transportation funding but against taking it from us. The bill would seriously impact our ability to transport students to ex-curricular activities and continue other funding such as art programs. Now I’m speaking as a parent,” said Bewley, whose son attends IPS’ Arsenal Technical High School.
IPS Board President Elizabeth Gore agreed. “It would reduce our state funds and severely impact the education that we are able to offer,” said Gore. “It would also leave us with some of the ones who need the most help and we would not have the funds to help them. We just know that this bill is an unsound public policy and would basically undercut our ability to educate.” Bewley said the charter and voucher bills would push IPS’ deficit to $20 million.
At Recorder press time, House Minority Leader Pat Bauer, a Democrat had met to see if a solution could be worked out.
“The funding formula change would have a devastating effect on us,” said IPS spokeswoman Kim Hooper. “It would further penalize urban districts that have lost some of their students and force them to cut several popular education programs, such as magnet options.”
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