Indiana school choice advocates up lobbying efforts
Indiana’s leading school choice advocates are mobilizing families at Hoosier private schools and ramping up lobbying efforts to expand the state’s voucher program.
The latest push includes a statewide poll and multiple local advocacy events intended to sway the state’s budget writers.
The Institute for Quality Education (IQE), an Indianapolis-based nonprofit that backs the state’s charter school and private school voucher programs, is the main driving force behind the campaign.
Betsy Wiley, IQE’s president and CEO, confirmed to the Indiana Capital Chronicle that the organization just finished up a statewide survey. Wiley said the poll is “a pretty broad brush” that could be used to persuade lawmakers to increase dollars for private and charter schools in the final days of the legislative session.
Results of the survey are not yet available, however.
Increased calls for expanded private and charter school funding come amid lawmaker deliberations around the next two-year state budget, which must be finalized by the end of the legislative session in late April.
Nearly half of the House Republican budget, 48%, goes to K-12 education, which will get a boost of nearly $2 billion over its current appropriation. One-third of that new funding will go to vouchers, however, drawing pushback from Democrats and other critics who maintain that such a move will take critical funding away from traditional public schools.
New statewide survey centers around private and charter school funding
IQE has conducted similar surveys in recent years, often at the midpoint of the legislative session, to test public opinion on the group’s “school choice” agenda items.
The group’s political action committee — Hoosiers for Quality Education — has also circulated polls, as recently as this month.
In addition to demographic information, the latest IQE survey asks respondents if their local public schools “have gotten better or worse in recent years,” and to grade local public schools on an A-F scale.
Numerous questions aimed specifically at charter schools focus on equal funding for such schools.
A new funding stream carved into the House-approved version of the budget would mandate the amount of funds every public school district and charter school receives for operations, which are collected through local property taxes.
Currently, charter schools cannot draw on local property tax dollars like traditional public schools can, putting them at a disadvantage for paying for certain expenses, like transportation or facilities costs.
One questions asks:
Charter schools in Indiana are public schools. Like traditional public schools, charter schools in Indiana are free, public, and open to all students. Knowing this, do you support or oppose public charter schools in Indiana?
Another, along similar lines, questions:
Like traditional public schools, public charter schools are funded by state and federal funds. However, traditional public schools receive local property tax dollars to pay for teacher salaries, building needs, school security, and transportation. Indiana’s public charter schools DON’T receive any local property tax dollars. Considering charter schools in Indiana are free, public, and open to all students, would you support or oppose providing public charter schools a fair share of local property tax dollars dedicated for public education WITHOUT raising taxes?
Other survey questions gauge Hoosiers’ thoughts on the state’s “school choice” program, known as Choice Scholarships, which allows families to receive vouchers to attend private schools.
In addition to asking about “general support” for Choice Scholarships, the survey seeks opinions about a proposal to raise the program’s income eligibility limit.
The average family of four with a household income of $154,000 or less is currently eligible for the voucher program. Under the new GOP-backed budget proposal, families making up to 400% of the federal poverty level, roughly $220,000, would qualify for vouchers.
When asked, ”Who do you agree with more when it comes to providing school choice scholarships to parents of K through 12 students to help pay for the non-public or church-run of their choice?” respondents can choose between:
- School choice scholarships are a good idea because it provides parents more school choices and control over their children’s education. It gives parents an opportunity to make a change if a school doesn’t meet their children’s needs and it makes public schools have to compete and improve their education, or
- School choice scholarships are a bad idea because it takes money directly out of the pockets of public schools and gives it to private schools, which only makes things worse for public schools and their students.
Another portion of the poll asks which type of K-12 public schools respondents “think can better educate and serve the needs of Indiana students.” Two options are provided:
Public charter schools that are held accountable by the government but are independently run by non-union employees and teachers, OR public schools that are government-run with union employees and union teachers.
Private schools call on lawmakers
As part of its campaign, IQE is additionally calling on Hoosier families to contact state lawmakers and express support for “private school choice” and “charter school funding” in the state’s budget.
Part of that is being carried out through a joint effort between IQE and the Indiana Non-Public Education Association, bringing speakers and advocacy activities to private schools around the state.
Online and across social media, individual private and charter schools are also encouraging families to contact state lawmakers directly, especially after a top GOP senator called for voucher school reforms — not expansion — in the current legislative session.
Those calls have come from schools like Roncalli High School in Indianapolis, Bishop Dwenger High School in Fort Wayne, Sacred Heart Catholic School in Jeffersonville and Illiana Christian High School in Dyer.
Indiana’s next two-year spending plan is now in the Senate’s hands.
Lawmakers in that chamber are expected to make numerous amendments to the budget, but it’s unclear where they’ll land on school vouchers, charter school funding, or K-12 appropriations, overall.
Voucher schools receive state funding but are not required to operate within the same parameters as local public schools. For instance, they don’t have elected school boards and don’t have to justify their spending. They also can reject any student. Critics have long maintained that such schools lack transparency and accountability to the public.
Meanwhile, charter school critics have long argued that such schools are not obligated to serve every student in a given community — unlike their traditional public counterparts.
The public charters also have private boards and are therefore not accountable to voters, opponents say. They maintain, too, that finances at charter schools are also less transparent, given that they are not subject to the same budgetary oversight as traditional public schools.
The Indiana Capital Chronicle is an independent, not-for-profit news organization that covers state government, policy and elections.