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May 27, 2011

Across Indiana, the school year is drawing to a close.

            Certainly it is a time for reflection, but I believe this year demands something more than simply rehashing fond memories of times with friends.

            Through initiatives enacted by single-party rule in our state government, we are about to see a series of radical changes in the way we operate our public schools that I feel will go a long way toward destroying our constitutional mission to provide free and open access to an education for all children.

            In the weeks to come, I will be talking with you about the financial burdens that have been placed on our local schools by those who run this Legislature and the governor, as well as new policies that will disrupt the ability of those same schools to help all students realize their talents and work to improve their skills.

            These changes are coming…and sooner rather than later.

            Already you are starting to see their impact.

            Travel across Indiana, and you will see that many districts no longer can offer summer school classes to help students who are having trouble understanding the basic skills they need. Schools can’t afford it.

            But just wait until August and September, when a new school year starts. Pay particular attention to what happens in smaller, rural school corporations, both in the 17th District and throughout Indiana. They will pay a deeper price than most.

            Because of a new funding formula that continues the recent trend of cutting state support for the majority of districts across this state, there will be fewer academic programs available to our kids.

            Classes will be bigger than before, which will make it harder for teachers to identify and help students who need more individual attention.

            The kinds of extracurricular and traditional programs that encourage students to develop their special talents will no longer be available. That means the loss of everything from art and music to vocational and technical education to band and football.

            If these activities are available, chances are good your child will have to pay to take part in them or rely upon the fund-raising abilities of local parents’ groups. For many families who end up paying out of their own pockets, this adds to burdens that already include things like clothing and textbooks.

            And forget about full-day kindergarten. Despite the claims from our governor that this program has been fully funded, the fact is that school districts are being asked to provide 80 percent of the per student costs for full-day K. Most schools won’t be able to afford it, unless they make additional cuts to existing programs.

            There will be added emphasis on testing, since the results of those exams will provide the most weight in judging the performance of both teachers and schools and determining whether schools are considered to be failing and therefore eligible to be taken over by for-profit entities.

            Who will benefit from all this?

            The groups that operate these for-profit schools, for one. Thanks to an innocently-named program called turnaround academies, these groups have gained the ability to swoop in, take over taxpayer-funded public school buildings for as little as $1, then turn them into schools that will have little local oversight.

            It gets worse. The people who run private schools will be able to recruit a select few students, thanks to a voucher plan approved by the House and Senate majorities and the governor. This voucher plan will divert your tax dollars toward private schools, which takes more funding away from public schools, which are responsible for educating those children who don’t meet private school standards.

            Beyond that, this Legislature and the governor have chosen to allow this explosion of vouchers – along with an increase in the numbers of charter schools across Indiana – without any true effort to require the same measures of accountability that are demanded from our public schools.

            And where will this leave those local voices that truly care about the state of education in Indiana…students, parents, school board members, administrators, and teachers? Under the thumb of policies dictated from Indianapolis, NOT their communities.

            Now you see why you need to be worried. We’ll talk in more detail starting next week.

            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