Seldom has the debate over education reform in the state of Indiana been more contentious.
Since laying out his education vision during this year’s State of the State address, Gov. Mitch Daniels has led the Republican-dominated Indiana General Assembly to boldly rethink the way many Hoosier students are taught.
Should two controversial education reform bills become law as anticipated, Indiana will take its place as a leader in school choice options, a familiar place for a state that in 2001 passed one of the strongest charter school laws in the country.
The legislation, House Bills 1002 and 1003, expands charter school options and resources, while also providing low-income families a publicly-funded scholarship of up to $4,500 for a child to attend a private school. Under this legislation, parents can also opt to take advantage of inter-district public school choice, should space be available.
The publicly funded school choice voucher program has drawn the ire of an establishment reluctant to relinquish resources in favor of reform.
The bills are among a series of provisions that prompted Democratic Party legislators to leave the Statehouse. In the meantime, opponents of choice have engaged in a fierce campaign that includes misinformation and tactics designed to scare individuals from seeking this option.
According to this campaign, vouchers and expanded charter options will “devastate” public education. In fact, since the creation of the state’s charter schools, which are public, the schools have operated at funding less than their traditional public counterparts. While opposition-based news articles have suggested these options have not yielded positive results, research indicates otherwise.
“Multiple Choice: Charter School Performance in 16 States,” an objective study by Stanford University’s Center for Research on Education Outcomes found that the state’s charter schools are outpacing traditional public schools in a bevy of areas. Among African-American students in particular, charter school students saw significantly better learning gains than Black students in traditional public schools. Lower income charter school students in Indiana also saw significantly better learning gains than their peers at traditional public schools. The report was released in 2009.
In terms of vouchers, opponents have argued that taxpayer dollars should not be used to fund private education. In Indiana, public funding is already allocated to private and faith-based institutions at the early childhood and post-secondary education levels. Also, as a result of voucher legislation, traditional public schools will receive a supplemental distribution equaling the remainder of per pupil dollars lost from a voucher redeeming student, in effect providing funds for students that are no longer educated in the district.
To bring proper context to the school choice debate, a non-partisan coalition of Hoosier stakeholders have formed to share the truth about the state’s proposed reforms. The groups are scheduled to go to the Statehouse to show their support for expanded choice. The coalition’s call is simply for legislators to return to the table and finish tackling an issue for which even Democrats are warming.
Next week, voices of the coalition will be heard. Will their legislators be there to hear them?