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Will public ed rally have GOP friends?

Indiana public education supporters will have their day at the Statehouse Tuesday, rallying in opposition to an expansion of the state's expansive school voucher law.

Here's hoping that Republican leadership doesn't squelch the bipartisan show of support now planned.

A well-orchestrated school choice rally, sponsored by the Koch brothers' Americans for Prosperity and other anti-union groups, "rocked" the Statehouse last week. It was well-attended by top GOP officials, including Gov. Mike Pence, Senate President Pro Tem David Long, House Speaker Brian Bosma and the chairmen of both the House and Senate education committees.

The speakers for Tuesday's rally, which begins at 2:30 p.m., include two Republicans, Rep. Randy Truitt of West Lafayette and Sen. Vaneta Becker of Evansville. I reached out to Becker for comment, but the spokeswoman for the GOP Senate caucus told me she is "not interviewing" on the topic and that she might not attend the rally.

Truitt was one of a handful of Republican votes against House Bill 1003, the voucher expansion legislation. Notably, he was the author last May of a long and thoughtful letter sent to GOP leaders, questioning proposed bills regarding the A-F school grading policies, teacher evaluations and more.

In interviews with The Journal Gazette editorial board last fall, incumbent Republican legislators – Reps. Kathy Heuer, Dan Leonard, Matt Lehman, to name a few – all said they believed it was time to see the effects of school legislation passed in recent years to work before passing more. But they apparently had a change of heart once the session was under way, or perhaps were subject to some arm-twisting. Each voted for the sweeping voucher bill, along with all of the newly elected Republican House members from northeast Indiana.

Rep. Kevin Mahan of Hartford City was the only area Republican to vote against the bill, along with representatives Truitt, Tom Saunders, Ron Bacon, Tom Dermody, Eric Koch, Wendy McNamara and Tim Neese.

The Fort Wayne area will be represented well at the rally. Julie Hollingsworth, a retired educator and member of the Fort Wayne Community Schools board, is among the speakers. Phyllis Bush, also a retired FWCS educator and co-founder of Northeast Indiana Friends of Public Education, also will speak. Bush was recently named to the board of The Network for Public Education, a new nationwide group formed by education historian Diane Ravitch.

The FWCS school board is expected to weigh in on the voucher issue at a special meeting tonight. Here's the proposed resolution the board will consider, stating opposition to HB 1003:

RESOLUTION OF THE FWCS BOARD OF TRUSTEES IN OPPOSITION TO HB 1003

WHEREFORE, the State of Indiana's current voucher program has resulted in students receiving a voucher upon leaving FWCS schools that have performed at the State's highest level of school achievement;

WHEREFORE, the current voucher system diverts funds from FWCS that are necessary to carry out the mission and goals of the District; and,

WHEREFORE, the State of Indiana is now considering HB 1003 which will expand the voucher system by allowing vouchers to students who have never enrolled in FWCS, thereby further diluting educational funding for the state's public schools; and,

WHEREFORE, the passage of HB 1003 will dramatically increase taxpayer funding for parochial and private schools by an estimated $21 million dollars, while FWCS funding continues to suffer the effects from a $10 million dollar unplanned cut to the district's budget during the "Great Recession";

NOWTHEREFORE BE IT RESOLVED BY THE FWCS BOARD OF SCHOOL TRUSTEES that the District is opposed to the passage of HB 1003 and any expansion of the Indiana school voucher program because the voucher system diverts funding from FWCS without regard to the quality of FWCS instruction and further because the expansion of vouchers under HB 1003 is estimated to draw $21 million dollars that would otherwise be available for tuition support for Indiana's public schools in general and FWCS in particular, which has yet to recover the unplanned cuts to its budget as the result of the budget shortfalls in 2009-2010.

BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED THAT THE FWCS BOARD OF SCHOOL TRUSTEES urges all legislators, but especially those from northeast Indiana to vote against HB 1003 in order to preserve and promote quality education in the State of Indiana's public schools, especially that which occurs daily in the FWCS District schools.

Karen Francisco, editorial page editor for The Journal Gazette, has been an Indiana journalist since 1981. She writes frequently about education for The Journal Gazette opinion pages and here, where she looks at the business, politics and science of learning as it relates to northeast Indiana, the state and the nation. She can be reached at 260-461-8206 or by e-mail at kfrancisco@jg.net.

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