In Indiana, many of our state legislators are touting a healthy increase in K-12 education funding for the next two years. Unfortunately, what is not being discussed is how much of that funding is being filtered out of public education and into private, charter and for-profit education according to Keith Gambill, Indiana State Teachers Association President. Many research groups across the country studying K-12 education funding, found that public education K-12 funding in in Indiana will increase by about 2% while private, charter and for-profit K-12 education funding will increase by about 10%. According to a 2018 report by the Indiana Department of Education, approximately 93% of Indiana K-12 students attend public schools.
On Nov. 19, the state house in Indianapolis was swarmed by 16,000 “Red for Ed” supporters. Those individuals wanted our state legislators to know that K-12 public education is reaching a crisis. Adequate funding is a monumental part of that crisis. In order to remain fiscally sound, many school corporations must pass referendum after referendum, which increases taxes for residents in those school districts. This action is necessary to keep class sizes appropriate, pay salaries, purchase new supplies and equipment, maintain programs and keep extra-curricular activities and sports. According to the 2019 National Education Association report, Indiana ranks 47th in the country for the money spent on each public school student. Also, the increase in teacher salaries in Indiana during the past 10 years ranks lowest in the country.
Where is the K-12 education money going? Why aren’t teacher salaries increasing? According to some state legislators and a few news media outlets, the problem lies with mismanagement of funds by local school boards. As a former school board member for Union Township School Corporation and a former member of the budget team and contract negotiation team, I find that accusation to be extremely offensive. During my tenure as a member of our contract negotiation team, we had a choice of either giving adequate raises to teachers, or cutting many programs. Our school corporation has some of the most outstanding educators in the state of Indiana. Unfortunately, during that negotiation period, the only increase in pay we could afford was a small one-time stipend. It made all of us on the team feel horrible. To play the blame game and point fingers at local school boards as the villains in this funding fiasco is appalling.
What has happened in Indiana since 2011 is that our state legislators have saddled Indiana taxpayers with two education mortgages: K-12 public education and K-12 private/charter/for-profit education. This demand is breaking the backs of Indiana taxpayers and it is breaking public K-12 education. I have no problem with private, for-profit and charter K-12 education. However, Indiana taxpayers can’t afford to fund both. No corporation would ever have a manufacturing facility at a location and then set up the same exact facility down the street. It would not make good financial sense. That is what we do in Indiana regarding K-12 education. Something else to note: many private, charter and for-profit schools underperform their public school counterparts and when these schools close, there is no oversite as to where the millions of taxpayer dollars given to them have gone. Stop blaming local school boards and start looking for viable solutions to this funding crisis. Finally, stop breaking the backs of Indiana taxpayers by forcing them to finance two separate K-12 education programs.
Pamela Mishler Fish is a former Union Township School Board member, serving on the budget team and contract negotiation team. The opinions are the writer’s.