Remember Jenga, the game in which wooden blocks are first carefully stacked in alternating layers to create a sturdy tower then removed one by one until the tower collapses? The GOP-led legislature has been playing Jenga with public education since 2009.
For a decade, legislators have pulled out support for public education. Legislators have failed to fund public schools adequately. They have taken more and more money from the education coffer for vouchers and thus funded religious education with public dollars. They favor private and parochial parents with tax credits not given to public school parents and fail to require transparency of private, parochial schools. They require public schools to do more with fewer resources. They promote privatization though evidence shows for-profit charters and virtual schools fail students and fail as businesses.
As bills in the 2019 session move from committees to the full House and Senate, legislators continue to remove the blocks from the public education tower:
• Budgeting only a 2 percent increase for education (no real increase when adjusted for inflation and actually a decrease in per-pupil funding).
• Cutting $100 million from the complexity formula providing funds to help our neediest children.
• Voting against the proposal to increase teacher pay despite a growing teacher shortage.
• Expanding vouchers and allowing public dollars to pay for religious education.
• Failing to prohibit voucher-accepting schools from discriminating on the basis of gender identity and sexual orientation.
• Doubling grants to charter schools to pay for building, technology and transportation.
• Failing to require education experience as a qualification for an appointed secretary of education.
Public education serves the whole community and all children. It is a public good, mandated by the state constitution. A good school district is an asset to a community, to property values and to growth of business.
Of the 1.1 million children enrolled in Indiana in 2018, 94 percent attend public schools. All of their public schools – rural, urban and suburban – are affected by this legislation; all are losing funding. Public schools, even those in the most affluent neighborhoods, are struggling to maintain programs, buildings and transportation as well as attract qualified staff.
In Jenga, the game ends when the tower falls. If we continue to allow the legislature to pull support from public schools, what happens when the education tower falls and districts cannot maintain buildings, supply classrooms materials, and attract good teachers? What happens to our kids?
There are not enough seats in private, parochial schools for a million children. And as school choice has demonstrated, those schools choose which students they accept. So where will we send our kids to school? If a school fails, what happens to property values in that neighborhood? What happens to businesses? What happens to communities?
Jenga is a game; public education is not. The Jenga tower is easily rebuilt for the next round. That is not the case with our public schools.
The consequences of pulling support from public education, intended or not, are far-reaching and long-lasting. Our legislators ought to be wise enough to see that and act accordingly.
Terry Springer is a retired Fort Wayne teacher and member of Northeast Indiana Friends of Public Education.