Ensure equitable treatment of all educational institutions

The dichotomy between public and private schools in Indiana.

Goal #8 – Equitable Treatment of ALL Educational Institutions

Indiana has expanded educational options through charter schools (public schools sponsored by a university or college, mayor, or other approved agency) and private schools (though scholarships and vouchers).  In voicing opposition for private school vouchers on the basis of the foundational underpinnings of public education as the great equalizer, I have been told countless times “that train has left the station” and have been reminded that vouchers are already in place. 

Of course, I continue to advocate for the elimination of future vouchers and the expansion of vouchers through new pathways and new qualifications that will place additional restraints and constraints on public schools that have served as the bedrock of Hoosier communities.  For an example of a fiscal constraint, please consider the 2015-2016 school year whereby costs of vouchers through the “Choice Scholarship Program” was more than $131 million.  

Based on this reality, one important goal for State leaders must be: If public dollars are going to continue to fund private education (through the questionable loophole of vouchers), the playing field must be leveled. 

Indiana MUST treat all educational institutions receiving public dollars the same, and this must include the rules and requirements.  Indiana has created a double standard that might have once been justified because private schools were just that, private.  Before the legalization of vouchers, private schools received no financial assistance for student tuition from the State of Indiana.  This does not mean that private schools are not accredited.  Further, this goal does not mean to imply that this unequal treatment has led to universal differences in student performances within public and private schools, though some data is emerging related to the overall effectiveness of the charter and voucher movements in Indiana.  Rather, this goal seeks to provide an understanding that should Indiana continue to fund private schools through vouchers, we must treat the private schools the same as public schools since both are receiving funding from the same source. 

Consider these examples:

In the midst of Indiana’s testing mess, State leaders implemented a law for public schools requiring them to adopt compensation models that impose restrictions on how public schools give teachers raises, including the mandate to utilize State data. (IC 20-28-9-1.5).  Private school requirements related to teachers’ raises?  NONE!

Indiana public schools have a legal obligation to bargain with teachers (IC 20-29-6).  Moreover, Indiana public schools have an obligation to discuss certain topics with teachers before implementing policy changes in the impacted areas (IC 20-29-6).  Both of these requirements add significant time constraints and staffing resources that come at significant costs to the public school districts.  Further, these requirements can limit the pace and degree of changes being implemented within public schools.  Private school requirements related to bargaining and discussing with teachers?  NONE!

Indiana public school districts have had laws put in place by the Indiana legislature that not only require teachers to be put on contracts, but also require the use of a State-prescribed contract form (IC 20-28-2, IC 20-28-6-3 & IC 20-28-6-4).  Private school requirements related to contracts?  NONE!

Indiana public school districts have specific requirements related to personnel.  For example, Indiana public school districts have legal guidelines for suspending a teacher without pay when such action is warranted (IC 20-28-9-21 & IC 20-28-9-22).  Further, Indiana public school districts have established due process requirements related to the termination of a teacher (IC 20-28-7.5).  Private school requirements within this section of Indiana code? NONE!

The Open Door Law (IC 5-14-1.5) specifically sets the legal requirement for meetings conducted by a Board of School Trustees to be held in public.  The understood goal of this legislation is to require public school districts to be transparent and to provide written notice of more than 48 hours when they plan to meet.  This allows important Board-level decisions to be made at meetings held in public.  These constraints can limit the work of public school districts.  What are the private school requirements related to the Open Door Law?  NONE!

Each year, public school districts spend thousands of dollars in staffing costs, and thousands more in legal fees complying with Indiana’s Access to Public Records Act (IC 5-14-3).  This legislative requirement defines what information must be retained, and made available to the public.  School districts are not reimbursed for the staffing costs associated with gathering this information.  Private school requirements seeking compliance with this act, or similar requirements for the provision of information to the public?  NONE!

In some of these examples, the solution might lie in reducing requirements of public schools.  In other cases, the solution might necessitate increasing requirements of private schools receiving public school dollars through vouchers.  However, in each case, something must be done by Indiana’s elected leaders to have the same set of rules for all educational entities. 

This parallel universe no longer makes sense and the inequitable treatment of educational institutions is creating an uneven playing field that in most other situations would be quickly corrected.  Indiana’s leaders must find a way to equitably treat ALL of Indiana’s schools and school districts.  Otherwise, Hoosiers will continue to speculate, likely with some accuracy, why Indiana’s elected officials have created so many advantages for private schools over public schools.

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