Indiana lawmakers return to Indianapolis this week for the 2011 legislative session. It’s a budget year, so that will be the top agenda item. But interwoven with that issue, will be changes to public school education.
The top issue every two years is the state budget, and this is one of those years. During the last budget, Indiana padded its spending with over 3 billion dollars of federal stimulus money. But those dollars are now gone and top lawmakers say they’re looking at state revenue projections at their lowest level since 2005.
K-12 education is no small part of Indiana’s budget: according to the State Budget Agency, it makes up 49% of spending. Education changes proposed by Governor Mitch Daniels range from changing how teachers are evaluated (putting more emphasis on student test scores) to reducing the scope of collective bargaining. Since the session hasn’t started, there aren’t fiscal impact statements to show how much money, if any, the state would save or lose with those changes.
But one that could reduce the amount of money schools receive allows publicly funded scholarships for students who want to attend private schools. Superintendent of Public Instruction Tony Bennett says that’s an idea he strongly supports.
“What school choice does is it gives children, it will give children, more opportunities to pursue educational opportunities that will meet their needs,” he explains. “It will enhance a spirit of collaborative cooperation that will raise the tide and really raise all our ships in our state.”
Indiana State Teachers Association union president Nate Schnellenberger says he doesn’t think Hoosier voters will like the idea of more money leaving public schools.
“The resources,” he says, “as you all well know are limited as they are in public schools and we don’t think it’s correct. We don’t think most Hoosiers support taking their public tax dollars and moving them to private schools.”
House Education Committee Chair Bob Behning says legislation will also be filed this session to expand both the number of charter schools, as well as the amount of oversight they receive from the state.