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STATEHOUSE REPORT FROM REPRESENTATIVE NANCY DEMBOWSKI

March 5, 2011
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04/07/11 We continue to conduct Indiana House business from two locations: Indianapolis and Urbana, Ill.

I am as disappointed as you that we have not reached some sort of resolution to the dispute that has caused this situation. Leaders on both sides have met face-to-face, and that is a positive sign.

But the central core of this dispute remains the same: the absolute refusal by the House majority to step back from or compromise on a radical agenda that I feel will hurt you.

The majority remains committed to a course that will cause long-term harm to both your families and the schools your children attend, even though thousands of Hoosiers have come to the Statehouse over the past two weeks to ask them to stop.

It is the kind of agenda that can cause those in power to sit back and declare, as a state senator did at a recent legislative breakfast, that students on the free and reduced lunch program are “underachievers” and that we needed to focus on high achievers rather than them.

When I hear this kind of arrogance on display, it only strengthens my commitment to the belief that the agenda these people are pursuing must be stopped.

I am fully aware that I can be fined by the House leadership. As I have already made clear, for as long as this situation goes on, I will not accept the $152 daily stipend that lawmakers are supposed to receive during the legislative session. That money will go back to the state of Indiana.

But the people of this state need to know that what is happening at the Statehouse is in direct opposition to the kind of bipartisanship that has marked recent sessions. During the last two sessions, close to 90 percent of all bills voted on in the House were passed by strong bipartisan margins. So far this year, less than 30 percent have drawn bipartisan support. This is not the government the people of Indiana want.

As you know, this dispute has focused on the harm that will come to both your paycheck and the quality of education that your kids receive. Let me talk more specifically about my concerns.

I have mentioned before about this agenda forcing a move toward for-profit schools that will accept only a limited number of children from only the most well-to-do families. Some of this shift will come from a rapid expansion of the number of charter schools in Indiana, and some will come from implementation of a voucher program that uses your tax dollars to enable children to attend private schools.

But what has not gained as much attention are additional proposals that will enable schools built by your tax dollars to be turned over to these for-profit groups for as little as $1 a year. There will be no local control over these for-profit schools, and virtually no standards for holding them accountable for the quality of education your children would receive.

There is a problem with for-profit schools: they’re primarily interested in making a profit. They will not be held to the same standards as public schools in providing a constitutionally required education, even though they will be given hundreds of millions in taxpayer dollars. At a time when we are focusing on successfully educating our children, that process should not be determined by a financial bottom line.

Fiscal matters also drive our concerns about the way this radical agenda will hurt working families across Indiana.

The attacks come under a variety of names, but they collectively would reduce your ability to care for your family. You will not have a chance to earn a better wage or get decent health care or even be assured of safe working conditions.

It is particularly disconcerting that such philosophies are intended to govern public projects that will be built with your tax dollars. The rule of thumb will be building cheaply rather than efficiently. I also am worried that it will open the door for more jobs to go to out-of-state workers, rather than to the 300,000 Hoosiers who are currently unemployed.

These policies will not affect just a few who happen to be members of unions, but thousands of workers across this state. These are the people who have come to the Statehouse to speak out against this agenda.

Like you, I wish the House majority would come to its senses and stop this madness. I fear it will not, until people like you make them stop.

The only way that can happen is for you to continue to contact your state representatives, and make your feelings known. I appreciate hearing from those who support our stand, but it’s important to talk to those of you who think we’re wrong. I want the chance to tell you what we’re fighting for, and engage in an honest debate on the future of our state.

Here are the best ways to stay in touch.

Please 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 H17@in.gov. <mailto:Hxx@in.gov.>

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