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The Journal Gazette

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Thursday, May 17, 2018 1:00 am

New school-control law abandons GOP principles

Randy Schmidt

Randy Schmidt is a legislative liaison for the Northeast Indiana UAW Retirees Council.

There is an old saying that liberty is never safe as long as the legislature is in session.

If liberty is protected by the democratic voting process, then a supermajority of Republicans in the Indiana General Assembly has proven the old adage right.

You see, on Monday, they used a special session to ram through House Bill 1315, a measure that strips citizens in Muncie and Gary of their right to select their own representatives to run their local school districts.

There was a time when concepts such as “local control” and “small government is the best government” were the defining mantras of the GOP.

But those days are now gone. On Monday, they tossed those conservative values onto the trash heap of history.

We saw an early version of this new “big government is best” Republican philosophy when legislators in Indianapolis previously placed constitutional limitations on local property tax levies.

You may have thought that locally elected municipal and county councils and school boards were best equipped to make these spending and taxing decisions on your behalf – local accountability to local voters and all that. But it turns out local voters can't be trusted with making these fiscal decisions.

Big brother in Indianapolis now knows best.

Yes, it's true that Gary and Muncie are facing hard economic times on a variety of fronts, including funding their school systems.

But it is also true that many of their problems are the result of policies enacted by the state and federal governments.

Just how much additional state aid these communities deserve for their schools is a valid topic of debate.

But demanding that these communities surrender their right to elect their own representatives in order to fix their local problems is not the answer. That is exactly what happened when HB 1315 was passed in the special session.

The idea is that state-appointed “emergency fiscal managers” know more than voters do about fixing their own problems, and surrendering democracy and self determination is just good medicine.

Don't fret – what could possibly go wrong?

Well, it was precisely this prescription that led to the destruction of the public water system in Flint, Michigan.

Their governor's appointed emergency managers knew nothing about public utilities, and an attempt to save the city some money created a lead poisoning epidemic. You still can't safely drink the water in Flint. And the costs to repair the problems created by the corporate managers will be paid for by generations to come.

The irony of the $30,000 special session in Indianapolis is that this same money could have paid the textbook fees of more than 270 students or could have been invested in pre-K education.

If you live in another school district outside Gary or Muncie, and think your local control is safe, think again.

The state grading system, put in place by these same state legislators, places many more local districts on the brink of being taken over by these outside emergency managers. Yours could be the next city to lose local voter control over your school system's future.

We have been blessed with a political system that usually results in practical solutions to the local problems we all must deal with.

But that system of local accountability is floundering in the current Indiana legislature.

Before you vote in November, ask your candidate whether they still support democracy and local control – or whether they think they know more than you do.