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August 27, 2011

08/28/11 INDIANAPOLIS – Across Indiana, a new school year has begun.

Here is what we have learned so far:

In Franklin Township in Marion County, families must pay close to $50 a month to bus a child to school. Many parents are choosing to drive their kids to school themselves.

In the New Albany-Floyd County School system, unlicensed assistants are teaching elementary school art, music and physical education.

In the Eastern Howard School Corporation, there isn’t going to be enough money to maintain buildings.

In Center Grove Schools, an Indianapolis-area automobile dealer is donating $1 million so parents won’t have to pay a new participation fee for their children to play football, basketball and other sports.

If you have been following Indiana’s public school system over the past few years, these stories aren’t new. They appear with a depressing regularity as local people try to figure out how to provide a state mandated public education with dwindling financial resources.

The crisis that affects our schools hasn’t happened with one big cut. It would be easier to be outraged on a larger scale when it happens to everyone at the same time.

Rather, it has come through a thousand different cuts at many different locations…a larger classroom size here, a new fee for families to pay there, fewer course offerings over there.

Not everyone gets hurt in the same way, but the impact continues to build over the course of a few years and eventually you find that the educational opportunities that were widely available for children just a few years ago are no longer there…and if they are there, your family has to pay a lot more to get them.

The truly evil thing about this approach is that a person tends to get used to paying a little extra here or there, simply because you aren’t socked with a huge bill at one time. A parent wants to do what’s best for a child, and one little fee doesn’t seem so bad.

Before long, though, the $50 bus fee and the $110 to pay for a kid’s textbooks and the $125 athletic participation fee…well, it adds up in a real hurry, especially when Mom and Dad are having trouble making ends meet during tough economic times.

These are the results of decisions that stretch back to the state taking almost complete control of the purse strings for our schools. It includes a failure to recognize how caps on property taxes can cut funding for education.

Finally, it shows what happens when the governor demands $300 million in cuts in state school support in each of the past two years and the Legislature chooses to divert even more support from public schools toward charter schools and private vouchers that aren’t available to all students, but a select few instead.

What we have is a rapidly shrinking pool of state funding that either forces schools to cut education services or requires families to pick up the tab for a growing number of programs and activities that used to be available to everyone willing to try out for a place on the team or in the band. Sometimes it requires both.

My worry is that we are reaching the point that schools won’t have the funding to provide the students with the classes they need to meet our state’s Core 40 course and credit requirements and get a high school diploma.

Then what will happen? Will K-12 become just like college and require students to pay for credit hours? Will we have to rely upon local businesses to pick up the tab for more than just athletics, which may force us to turn our high schools into smaller versions of Lucas Oil Stadium or Conseco Fieldhouse, with advertising plastered everywhere?

These are the long-term implications of decisions that have been made at the Statehouse in recent sessions. It is in all our interests to consider whether this is a course we need to continue following.

It is obvious that parents already are willing to invest in education and our kids, because they continue to pay these fees. What we need to see is the same realization and focus from lawmakers. Fully funding education is the right move as an economic development tool and a means to improve the quality of life for all Hoosiers.

Throughout the interim, here are the best ways to reach me:

Call the toll-free Statehouse telephone number of 1-800-382-9842;

Write to me in care of the Indiana House of Representatives, 200 W. Washington St., Indianapolis, IN 46204; or

E-mail me at