Today's Indianapolis Star brings us an article with the headline "Poorest students losing the most." The article details how some school districts, in particular Indianapolis Public Schools and schools in Gary, Indiana, receive less than funding in the two year budget than was previously the case. The reason is simple: the enrollment in those two school districts is dropping dramatically.
While everyone agrees that it costs more to educate children in the inner city districts of Gary and Indianapolis, the question is how much more? IPS insists on continuing to get more and more of our tax dollars every year despite the dramatic drop in enrollment in the district. Enrollment dropped from 38,900 to 34,000 in the past year and is expected to dip to nearly 30,000 by 2011. This is a school district that decades ago had student enrollment over 100,000.
The Star article suggests that the state's poor and black students as the "losers" in the budget battle. Apparently the reporters, Marty Beth Schneider and Mark Nichols, are not aware of the makeup of those who attend charter schools. 70% of the students at charter schools are minority, and over 60% qualify as impoverished under the free school lunch program. Contrary to the oft-heard claim that charter school students are the cream of the crop, students who enter charter schools start with lower test scores than their counterparts in public schools. Further, charter schools cannot pick and choose their students. By law, they cannot turn down students and if more students apply than they have room, they have to take students by lottery. Charter schools also have to make do with only per pupil funding. They receive no tax dollars for buildings or transportation, unlike other public schools. In short, they educate students for much less than our "regular" public schools.
In the budget that passed, charter schools were a big winner. The foolish idea of charter school caps was tossed aside in the special session. The budget bill passed also gives charter schools the opportunity to tap into technology funds that other public schools received, provides a pilot program for virtual charter schools, helped with the start-up financial challenges faced by charter schools, and allows for the creation of Recovery Charter Schools for students recovering from addictions.
Most importantly though charter schools won an increase in funding due to the expected increase in charter school enrollment. Underlying that increase is the concept that the money should follow the child. In charter schools, that's their only funding source - the per pupil amount.
While IPS claims that charter schools are bleeding it dry, the fact is that most IPS students, 70%, who leave end up in township schools not charter schools, which only account for 16% of the students leaving IPS.
An additional reform mentioned in the article is a tax credit to encourage donations to private schools scholarships. Not surprising, this measure, which seeks to, like charters, promote parents having a choice in the education of their children, is opposed by defenders of the failing status quo.
Contrary to the Star's story, the budget did not deal a blow to the education of minorities and the poor. Rather, with the charter school reforms and the private school scholarship tax credit, the budget further opened the door so that minorities and the poor can finally choose to escape their failing schools. It is not clear why the Star would not believe that giving the parents of minorities and the poor no choice but to send their children to failing, crime-ridden schools - would have been a victory for those children.
It's called the status quo. I have known dozen of parents that lived in the IPS district move out or sent their kids to private school once their kids reached school age. It's to bad the charter schools couldn't get the funding that public schools do to pay their teachers. If they could provide the pay and benefits that public school teachers enjoy not only would the kids be fleeing the bad schools so would the good teachers.
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