To the Editor:
The recent call by State Superintendent Dr. Tony Bennett for his takeover of school districts and subsequent assignment of those school districts to private management companies should be cause for concern by all citizens and parents across Indiana. Several reasons give cause for rejecting the plan.
Since taking legislative action to remove the school General Fund from local tax sources and instead inadequately fund it from the additional 1 percent state sales tax increase enacted at that same time, state leaders including Dr. Bennett have increased their demands on local school districts and have stood silently by as significant cuts have become necessary to programs in our local schools. Simultaneously, funds going to the school voucher program have been dramatically increased as has the emphasis on expanding charter schools. Local schools are now forced to seek referendum approval to meet student program needs.
The State of Indiana, through Dr. Bennett’s office, has taken over several individual schools and has then assigned those schools to private contractors. To date, no definitive data has demonstrated that either approach has increased student achievement, the purported basis for all the mandated changes. Though the campaign rhetoric would suggest that all of these have been dramatically successful, no evidence exists to make that case. In fact, some reports suggest that the changes have had a negative effect, or no effect, on student learning and student experiences.
The movement to state level control has been constant and entirely without regard to locally elected school board views. The experiment with the state controlled Department of Child Services has not served Indiana’s children well. Neither will Dr. Bennett’s takeover and reassignment of school districts to private companies. His tenure as a district administrator and as a superintendent in Indiana provides no evidence of unique success in increasing student achievement and thus provides no evidence that he is wise in this regard beyond locally accountable and elected school board members. Governance of Indiana’s public schools should remain with locally elected board members.
Indiana’s students have made significant gains in achievement. It is appropriate to recognize Dr. Suellen Reed’s impact on those gains along with Indiana legislators and governors who passed and implemented Indiana’s school accountability law nearly a decade ago. Higher rigor, more advanced courses, and tremendous work by local educators and parents along with hard-working students made those gains possible.
State takeover of local school districts will further enlarge the power and reach of state government. It will place control of schools too far from the parents of our students. Centralized state control and power are not Hoosier values nor should they be presented as such. We must oppose this power grab – one that will negatively impact our children and our communities.