The governor has taken to calling the recently-wrapped 2015 legislative session of the Indiana General Assembly the “education session.” He’s right. Hoosiers got a lesson in the extent of damage one-party rule is capable of inflicting and Republicans’ adversarial vision for Indiana classrooms.
Consider first the narrative Governor Pence and his Republican allies have constructed around school funding. “The largest increase in state history,” is how Republicans describe education spending this year. So how then, do some schools still lose funding?
Because Hoosier Republicans and other champions of competition in education increasingly see classrooms as revenue streams, students as data points and teachers as test preparers. The school funding formula Republicans devised is simply an extension of this marketplace philosophy. The result: schools that win and schools that lose.
How can we assign more value to one student’s education over another? It’s a false choice. But it’s a choice Republicans willingly entered into and one that will see $250 million shifted out of urban and rural classrooms to subsidize growth at other schools.
In practice, their choice will handcuff teachers serving students in high-poverty communities. Difficult circumstances outside the classroom are challenge enough for our teachers, now we’re asking educators to achieve success with even fewer resources. These schools aren’t trying to offer Latin or lay Astroturf in their football stadiums, these are schools struggling to keep the lights on and their buses running. I can promise you the Indianapolis 500 will not be won by a team racing Ford Pintos but that’s the equivalent of what Governor Pence is asking of our educators.
Republicans’ “education-as-a-business” ideology extends beyond just school funding. Students endlessly churn through cycles of test prep, high-stakes testing and test debriefing that teachers and schools are then narrowly evaluated from. Test results are king, so be it if it means the slow death of educators as facilitators of actual learning.
Education in Indiana is a $6 billion a year enterprise and it’s a bull market. Disciples of “education-as-a-business” model have expertly tapped funding once reserved for public schools and are just beginning to open the spigot. Nearly $2.8 million in scholarship tax breaks for Hoosiers earning $100,000 or more, $100 million of taxpayer money to subsidize private schools, contracts with for-profit, out-of-state school takeover providers, the list of winners and losers only grows.
It doesn’t have to be this way. Business acumen and education can overlap in ways that benefit all Hoosiers students. How can we claim this was an “education session” when the legislature demurred on early childhood education? I challenge the governor to lay the groundwork for a statewide expansion of his preschool pilot program that gives any family that wants it access to high-quality early childhood education. The governor knows quality pre-K returns $13 in public benefit for every $1 invested. Schools bring our communities together, education policy should strive to achieve the same. Governor Pence and Statehouse Republicans must distance themselves from the divisive politics of this legislative session and work to chart a more unified way forward.