I am truly shocked. And I have been in the Senate for 12 years and have seen a lot of things. The so-called party of small government is using the power of the state to takeover community schools in Indiana. House Bill (HB) 1315, which passed the House of Representatives and is now in the Senate, allows the State of Indiana to effectively remove elected officials from office and forcibly take over the Gary Community School Corporation and Muncie Community School Corporation.

For Gary, this bill converts the locally-elected school board to an advisory-only board and actually prohibits it from meeting publicly more than once every three months. Surely that is unconstitutional. This blatantly takes away local power, guts community engagement and negates the meaning of any vote for school board. It allows teachers to be fired without notice or due process. And, there is nothing the local community can do to get their schools back from the state. Only the Emergency Manager can petition the state to end the distressed unit status of Gary Schools and return control of schools back to the community.

The Muncie situation is even worse. Control of Muncie Community Schools is fully turned over to Ball State University in this bill. There is not a way for the community to regain control of their schools if the experiment fails; this is permanent. Ball State would appoint a seven-member advisory board that would run the schools. Only two of those members are required to come from the local district.

Ball State is a great institution and community partner. But this move is unprecedented, certainly in Indiana and perhaps nationally. Seriously? The state is removing an elected body (school board) and essentially giving the school system to a State University. This bill strips local citizens of their right to any local control over their schools. Other provisions of the bill allow Ball State to operate Muncie schools outside of most of the rules governing public schools, from bus transportation regulations to teacher background checks and evaluations.

Normally state takeovers are limited to emergency situations. Yet, the state is taking over Muncie with no guidelines for why. Muncie is a C-graded school corporation. This might not be at the top of the state’s grading chart, but it’s certainly not failing. In fact, 68 Indiana school corporations have a C grade, which is the average school grade for the state. Are those schools next? Financially, Muncie had an issue, for which they were placed in financially impaired status last year. Since then, Muncie’s most pressing financial problems have been turned around.

Muncie and Gary are both already operating under improvement plans put in place by the legislature just last year. These current plans don’t take away the right to vote, and the schools are making necessary improvements. The new takeover plans are an attempt by Indiana Republicans to further strip Hoosiers of their right to vote, by allowing non-elected administrators to take over an entire city’s school system. This big government takeover was suggested by other non-elected budget bureaucrats in Governor Holcomb’s Administration. I call on the governor to prove he respects the constitutional rights of every Indiana citizen by stopping the progression of HB 1315.

I remain shocked. Is your school next?