Chants of “yes to public schools, no to vouchers” rang out in the South Atrium of the Indiana Statehouse as parents, educators and legislators from throughout the state gathered to rally against House Bill 1003, which would expand the state’s school voucher system.
Signs throughout the room read “No to Voucher Expansion” and “We need our $300 million back.”
Marilyn Shank, a board member of the Indiana Coalition for Public Education, presented each speaker, all of whom opposed the current system.
“There are people who would have you believe that public schools in Indiana are failing,” she said.
Danny Tanoos, superintendent of Vigo County Schools, said private schools are free to turn students away, but public schools accept all students.
“We don’t care what they look like or who they are,” he said.
He said the voucher program is more than just a partisan issue.
“This is not about the Republicans and Democrats,” he said. “This is about right and wrong.”
Rep. Randy Truitt, R-West Lafayette, said the state has been seeing higher Indiana Statewide Testing for Educational Progress Plus scores, Advanced Placement scores and graduation rates and the implementation of full-day kindergarten has made students more prepared. He said it is important for students to have the skills and resources they need from their first day of school to graduation.
Fort Wayne Community Schools Board Member Julie Hollingsworth shared the new resolution the school district passed Monday opposing HB 1003. In 2011, the school district received an “A” grade for having fine arts programs in all of their elementary schools and a public high school with an international baccalaureate program. She said vouchers run the risk of ending these programs.
Cathy Fuentes-Rohwer spoke as a Bloomington ICPE representative. The organization was formed more than a year ago in response to these changes. She said businesses and politicians need to be kept out of decisions involving education. Children need to be treated as students, not statistics, she said.
“This is not a business franchise we are talking about,” she said.
Joel Hand, from the ICPE, said HB 1003 would allow students already in private schools to receive vouchers. It would also extend the possibility of receiving a voucher to siblings of students who already receive vouchers, children of veterans and children in foster care, whether or not they have ever attended a public school.
Vic Smith of ICPE said the one million students in public schools have to deal with larger class sizes and less resources due to vouchers. The state budget allocates an additional $132 million, almost half of what was cut in 2011, to public schools. $21 million of this money would automatically go to private schools through vouchers.
Carole Craig of ICPE mentioned the 9,000 voucher students at religious schools that are receiving public dollars.
“I believe in separation of church and state,” she said.
Craig said out of the 289 voucher schools in Indiana, 278 are Catholic, Lutheran or Christian, three are Muslim, two are Jewish and six are non-sectarian.
Susan Lantzer and her daughter came to the rally because they oppose public money going to religious schools. Susan and her family are secular humanists.
“We feel strongly about supporting the public schools,” she said.
Rep. Vernon Smith, D-Gary, said supporters of the voucher program are hard-headed and mainly concerned about money. “Follow the dollar” was repeated often in his speech. He told those in attendance not to surrender hope.
“The battle is not over until we quit,” he said. “People do to us what we give them permission to do.”
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