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Urge legislators to reject HB 1005, SB 412

Our Opinion
Dr. Mark Eastridge, Steve Morris, Dr. Lance Richards – Guest Writers

“We are only giving parents the right to choose” is a wonderful talking point and rationale behind the Republican drive to significantly expand the voucher program in this state. The proposed legislation contained in House Bill 1005 and Senate Bill 412 would greatly expand the use of state tax dollars to pay tuition for students currently attending private schools and for more students to attend private schools.

Please consider:

90% of Indiana students attend public schools, 10% private schools.

In 2019-20, the state spent $172 million on vouchers for private schools.

The proposed two-year House budget increase for all schools is $378 million, of which $144 million would go to private schools, for 10% of students.

Median income for an Indiana family of four is $90,654.

Voucher eligibility under this proposal for a family of four increases to $145,410 by 2023.

The estimate is 12,000 students currently paying private school tuition would now receive a state-funded voucher.

The estimate is 16,000 students currently enrolled in public schools would switch to a private school, costing public schools a potential loss of $94 million (average public, $5,900).

The governor created a commission to study teacher pay; the recommendation was to increase funding by $600 million to make this state competitive.

Regarding the expansion of vouchers and establishment of Educational Savings Accounts in the state of Indiana, we urge all parents of public school students (90% of all students in this state) to contact their legislators to reject both proposals. So far, Rep. Karen Engleman, R-Georgetown, and Sen. Erin Houchin, R-Salem, have supported voucher expansion. Rep. Steve Davisson, R-Salem, has not.

As superintendents, in representing thousands of parents and students, both bills will divert money from public schools.

Educational Savings Accounts also divert money from public schools by allowing parents who opt-out (home school) their kids the equivalent of a taxpayer funded debit card loaded up to $7,000 to spend however they want (private school, home school, tutoring or private educational services).

Both bills result in millions of dollars that could go to raising teacher pay and supporting public schools.

Educational funding is a complex issue and the largest investment a state makes in its future. Rather than expanding vouchers and introducing Educational Savings Accounts, we propose the following:

• Use the proposed $144 million voucher expansion to fund teacher pay.

• Convert the proposed $150 million competitive remediation grant in the House budget to the basic grant funding formula for all schools. This proposed remediation grant provides funds for pandemic relief; however, it is not necessary due to funds schools receive through federal stimulus plans.

• Ask the voters of Indiana if they support voucher expansion through a statewide referendum. After all, public schools now have to ask their local taxpayers through a referendum to pay additional tax dollars to support public schools.

We appreciate the legislature increasing the overall educational budget for the next two years. It provides schools an opportunity to keep pace with inflation.

Currently, parents have the most school choice options in Indiana history; they can choose to send their kids to the local public school, a neighboring public school, an area charter school or local private school. We urge the legislature to reject both bills, simply, for every new dollar expended to pay for private school tuition in our state is one less dollar that could help raise teacher pay and educate 90% of students in public schools.

Editor’s note: Dr. Mark Eastridge is superintendent of South Harrison Community School Corp., Steve Morris is superintendent of Lanesville Community School Corp. and Dr. Lance Richards is superintendent of North Harrison Community School Corp.