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Rally denounces proposed Indiana voucher expansion

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A proposal to expand Indiana's private school voucher program was denounced during a Statehouse rally on Tuesday as a step that would take millions of dollars away from the state's public schools.

About 500 people applauded and chanted "Yes to public schools!" and "No more vouchers" as speakers attacked the Republican-backed bill to expand Indiana's 2-year-old voucher system, which is already the nation's largest.

The expansion would allow kindergartners and some other children to become eligible without first spending a year in public schools. Indiana Parent Teacher Association president Sharon Wise called the plan a "massive overstep" that would strip money from traditional public schools.

"No matter whether you're a good school district or bad you will lose money — and this is unacceptable," Wise told the crowd.

About 9,100 Indiana students are receiving $37 million in vouchers this school year. The House Republican budget plan forecasts spending for the voucher program to grow over the next two years to $63 million annually, with the number of students growing to 15,000.

The event was held a week after supporters of the voucher expansion held a rally that included Republican Gov. Mike Pence and GOP House and Senate leaders.

The bill, now pending in the Senate, makes several exemptions from the requirement included in the 2011 law that all students spend at least a year in public schools before becoming eligible for a voucher. It eliminates that requirement for children in military families, foster families, children with special needs and siblings of current voucher students.

Cathy Fuentes-Rohwer, the leader of the Bloomington branch of rally organizer Indiana Coalition for Public Education, said legislators should take note that Democratic state schools superintendent Glenda Ritz — a voucher opponent — received more votes in last year's election than Pence did in winning the governor's office.

Fuentes-Rohwer joined other speakers in criticizing the advance of the voucher expansion after then-Gov. Mitch Daniels cut $300 million in public school funding during the recession.

"We think it is wrong that our PTAs and PTOs have to hold bake sales and put pretty baskets up for auction while politicians redirect millions of our tax dollars to private schools," said Fuentes-Rohwer, who has three children attending Monroe County schools.

Ritz was invited to speak at Tuesday's rally but was in Washington for a previously planned trip, spokesman David Galvin said.

But supporters maintain the expansion is needed to give parents a choice. Lindsey Brown, executive director of School Choice Indiana, which favors the expansion, said it won't hurt the more than 1 million students who will remain in the state's public schools.

"The vast majority of families in our state will continue to be well served by those schools," Brown said. "This is about giving parents an option for finding the right fit for their child."

The Indiana Supreme Court is weighing the legality of the program after hearing arguments in November in a lawsuit pressed by the Indiana State Teachers Association. The association argued that virtually all of the voucher money goes to schools whose primary purpose is to promote the teachings of their affiliated churches.

Rep. Vernon Smith, D-Gary, also spoke at Tuesday's rally, saying he believed Republicans were wrongly trying to direct more money toward the state's voucher and charter school programs before knowing their effectiveness.

"The battle is not over until we quit," Smith said. "We should not give those Republicans permission to destroy public education."

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  • You are dreaming
    Teachers have life time health insurance? No one told our school corp!! Limited school days - unions cannot bargain that in Indiana. If every kid had a voucher, then schools like Canterbury and Park Tudor would raise their tuition by the amount of the voucher, not change any admission policy and laugh all the way to the bank. No teacher went into education to get wealthy. Is it really so hard for you to believe that teachers care about students?
  • Vouchers steal from Taxpayers and Children
    I am NOT affiliated with a union and I strongly oppose expansion of Vouchers. HB1003 is not about union issues at all, as some misinformed people will tell you. Simply, it is that the expansion of vouchers will take more taxpayer money that is collected for the COMMON good and give it to PRIVATE interests who can and DO discriminate against the disabled and the disenfranchised. HB 1003 is more or less UNAMERICAN because it robs from the "common schools" that were established in our state's constitution.
  • obsessed with evil union rhetoric
    If you read the article, you will see that there were citizens there defending public schools who were completely separate from the unions you seem to worry about. I am a mother, at home with my four children, who spoke at this rally. We pay our taxes for public education, yes. It is the state's responsibility to fund that. We do so because not only is it in the state constitution as our children's RIGHT, but because we believe in a common space where our kids, regardless of background, will come together to learn to be the citizens of tomorrow. This has EVERYTHING to do with my children and the other children across this state. When you take tax dollars away from public schools and put them in the hands of private schools through vouchers, you are, indeed, funding private schools. And the children who are left behind get larger class sizes and fewer resources with these cuts in funding. Add to that the misguided belief that the ISTEP will show you success or failure, and you have public schools with a narrowing curriculum and teaching to the test in order to "prove" their success. Unions are secondary to this entire scenario. This is about whether or not you believe that public education is the cornerstone of our democracy and whether or not you are willing to support that. Schools are not businesses and should not be treated as such.
  • Maybe there's a History teacher in the Group
    Whenever unions have a monopoly over the means of production of anything the quality suffers. Education is no different. If our students were outperforming those in the majority of other states, I doubt the charter school movement would have gained much traction. This isn't about denying funding to public schools. Collectively, our tax dollars pay for schools before, during and after our children are in them. If you have no children, you pay anyway. If you send your kids to private schools, you pay anyway. It certainly isn't about funding religious institutions. And it's certainly not about kids. This is about the union protecting inflated salaries, a bygone era defined benefit pension plan, lifetime health insurance, limited schoool days and other "benefits" to the few that come at a very high cost to the many. Any demand for accountability is met with the response that higher results can only come with more funding and that quality measurements are soemhow not fair. I'm through buying that.
    • Unbelievable Unions
      Our teachers are at it again...more interested in keeping their jobs than in the best education for the kids. The literacy rate as shown in the ISTEP scores is appalling. I guaranty that if the teachers had their way there would be no ISTEP to measure the results of their failure. If they really cared every kid would be given a voucher and told to go whereever they thought they could get the best education. Instead, they want the few thousand who want more out of life to be put back in the soup. How sad...I used to respect teachers.
    • handing onto a sinking ship
      not until public schools are restructured and separated from the self serving unions (and their desire for power and cash) public schools will continue to deny our children what they deserve.....a great education

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