Stu Bloom: In Which I Think of Ways to Respond to My Legislators
Indiana is getting ready to divert even more taxpayer money to its voucher program, which largely benefits the private religious schools of the state. Stu Bloom has been writing to his legislators, but the responses have been less than encouraging. So here, he imagines his rebuttal. Reposted with permission from the blog Live Long and Prosper
Indiana is ready to add more public money to the state voucher program for private — mostly religious — schools.
House Bills 1001 and 1005 would give nearly a third of the state’s increase in education funding to the 5% (10% if you count charters) of the students who go to private schools. I had written to my local state rep, Dave Heine, but received no reply. He voted to approve the increase along with all of his Republican friends in the state House of Representatives. The bills are now before the state Senate, so I wrote my state senator, Dennis Kruse (IN-S14), and asked him to vote against increasing the vouchers.
I received responses from Senator Kruse this week. I’ll send a reply to his emails, though I doubt it will change anything. Here is what he wrote (different paragraphs are from his response on House Bill 1001 or House Bill 1005) followed by some of what I might say.
Kruse: Thank you for reaching out about House Bill 1005. I value the opinions of my constituents and I value your individual opinion.
Me: Do all politicians start their letters this way? I’ve talked to this man in person and I know full well that, while he might “value” the opinion of some of his constituents, he doesn’t really value mine. Every election cycle, Senator Kruse gets donations from a group called Hoosiers for Quality Education a group funded by former Secretary of Education, and billionaire privatizer, Betsy DeVos. The goal, it seems, is to privatize Indiana’s education system.
Kruse: I am committed funding education for Hoosier students. The Indiana 2019-2020 state budget increased $750,000,000 more to K-12 Education than the previous fiscal cycle. That is the largest single increase in state education funding in our 200-year history as a state. This legislative session has just begun. I am excited for the opportunity to review Indiana’s current practices and potential amendments.
Me: He says, look at how much money we’re spending on education in this state. Am I supposed to be impressed by this? We have given around a billion dollars of public funds to private/religious schools since the voucher plan was put into place in 2011. How was that money spent? No one knows. Who kept track of that money? Maybe the money was spent on new steeples, football fields, or church expansions. There’s no way to know because that money is unaccountable.
Kruse: While I believe that Indiana public schools should receive an increase in funding, I also believe that parents have the right to choose where their child should be educated. House Bill 1005 creates a grant for students with disabilities or for students with parents who have disabilities. Accordingly, this bill allows parents of children with disabilities to make a choice about where their child attends school. Some public schools are not equipped with the proper resources or staff to address the individual needs of students with disabilities. Therefore, I want to ensure that parents can receive a meaningful education for their child by supporting House Bill 1005.
Me: Do parents choose to send their children to a private school? Some do because some private schools will accept some of the students. But all private schools restrict some students. Students of a different religion, gay students, transgender students, students who struggle with learning, students with behavioral issues, are all targeted for rejection by some private schools. Whose choice is it to attend a private school? A parent can apply to send their child to a private school, but it’s up to the school to accept them.
Should taxpayers fund schools that discriminate against certain students?
What about students with disabilities? Some private schools don’t accept any students with disabilities. Others only accept certain disabilities (such as students needing speech therapy). Private schools often reject students by telling the parent that “we aren’t equipped to deal with their particular needs.” Finally, public schools are required by law to provide services to children with disabilities. Private schools are under no such obligation. Do these bills require schools to take students with disabilities? Do these bills preserve the rights of students with disabilities?
Kruse notes that “some public schools are not equipped with the proper resources or staff to address the individual needs of students with disabilities.” So instead of dealing with this problem directly by increasing funds to ensure that all public schools are properly supported, we’re going to just forget about that and send the money to private schools instead? Why are we sending tax money to private and religious schools if we aren’t even able to fully fund our constitutionally mandated public schools?
Kruse: The decision about what school to send your children to is a challenging one for every parent. Choosing not to attend a public school, for most parents, is an opportunity to select the best fit for curriculum for their children.
Me: I’m glad he mentioned the curriculum. Why should taxpayers provide funds for schools that teach religion instead of science or history? Should taxpayers fund students’ field trips to the Creation Museum? What about schools whose curriculum materials “whitewash slavery” saying things like, “The majority of slaveholders treated their slaves well”?
Should tax dollars go to schools that teach religion? The Indiana Constitution (Article 1, Section 6) says “NO.”
No money shall be drawn from the treasury, for the benefit of any religious or theological institution.
In 2013, despite the Constitutional restriction, the Indiana Supreme Court upheld the state voucher program. They were wrong.
Kruse: While I support school vouchers, I also strongly support public education. Indiana’s total state budget designates 61% of funding toward education. 50% of the budget is directly utilized in k12 education, for an annual budget of $9 Billion of the total annual state budget of $18 Billion…
Me: Again, the money he’s talking about includes money for private schools and charter schools which he votes to increase every year. Indiana Republicans always, always say that “more than 50% of the budget goes to education.” That’s true, but hidden in that more than 50% is the money, taken off the top, for private schools. That money should be going to public schools, because the state constitution mandates a system of public schools. It says nothing about supporting a system of private, religious, or privately run schools. Indiana, indeed, no state in the country, can afford to fund three separate school systems (public, charter, and voucher).
Kruse: Accordingly, this legislative session we are currently working to draft the budget proposing an increase to school funding by $438 million. This proposal would result in an approximate $800 raise for teachers over the next two years. I will support this increase and any opportunity to raise public school teacher salaries.
Me: I’m all for increasing Indiana’s teachers’ salaries. Indiana teachers’ salaries have dropped by around 15% (when adjusted for inflation) since 2000. The amount that Senator Kruse notes, though, isn’t enough. With another $800 a year, the average salary for Indiana teachers would still be less than all the surrounding states. Now, if he means to increase the salary by $800 a month (for the 10 month school year), that would put the teachers just slightly below where the Governor’s Next Level Teacher Compensation Commission, said we needed to be. Finally, and once again, that $438 million increase to school funding includes voucher increases!
Kruse: I am committed to finding ways to support the education of Hoosier students at both private schools and public schools. I believe that school vouchers do not contradict public education. Instead, I believe that parents should have the ability to send their children to the school of their choice.
Me: I know he is committed to finding ways to support private schools. I can’t think of one voucher bill that he’s voted against since 2011.
The truth is that school vouchers DO harm public schools. Public dollars should go to public schools.