Photo by Michael Johnson

J.T. Coopman, executive director of the Indiana Association of School Superintendents, explains the General Assembly’s education bill proposals he said will be detrimental to public education in the state.

MONON — Eight school boards of education representing all or parts of seven counties in west-central Indiana each passed resolutions Monday night signifying their opposition to three Indiana General Assembly bills they say will siphon state public education funds to private and charter schools.

The meeting of the eight school boards at one venue — and at the same time, at North White Jr./Sr. High School’s auditorium — is believed to be the first and largest of its kind. Each school corporation board unanimously passed their respective resolutions.

The schools participating in the joint meeting were Eastern Pulaski, Benton Central, Carroll, Delphi, North Newton, North White, Pioneer and Tri-County.

“At no other time have this many school boards from this many counties joined together for a meeting,” North White Superintendent Nick Eccles said. “This is a statement to all public educators across the state that, although we are individual, we are also one.”

Other schools sending representatives or administrators to the meeting, but not conducting business, included Frontier, Rensselaer Central, Kankakee Valley and West Central, among others.

Dr. J.T. Coopman, executive director of the Indiana Association of School Superintendents and a former educator at North White, served as guest speaker. He presented information on each of the bills and urged the school boards and representatives to spread the word among their constituents.

The bills each school opposes are House Bill 1005, Senate Bill 412 and SB 413.

HB 1005 sets aside $33 million in 2022 and 2023 for Choice Scholarships, tax deductions provided to parents of students who would leave public school and enroll in a private or parochial school. It has passed the Indiana House of Representatives and is awaiting a vote in the state Senate.

The bill also sets up an Educational Savings Account — essentially a debit card — for parents who have children in accredited private or parochial schools. The Educational Savings Account allows parents to deposit money in the account for Special Education services, tuition, or other supplies. The parent is allowed to claim this deduction on their yearly Indiana tax return.

SB 412 establishes the Indiana Education Scholarship Account. This becomes the vehicle for parents to deposit funds for Special Education services, tuition and supplies for their student to attend a private or parochial school. This bill didn’t make it out of committee for a vote on the floor of the Senate.

SB 413 allows foster children to receive a Choice Scholarship.

Public school administrators say that unlike public education, there is no state oversight mechanism built into the bills for private or charter schools, which makes it ripe for fraud.

“Each of these bills takes away, in some fashion, from public education,” Eccles said. “The bills are set up to incentivize parents and provide scholarships to attract our students across Indiana into private and charter schools.

“Some may ask, ‘Why are we meeting on these bills when many of us don’t have private or charter schools in our districts, or even close to our districts?’ My response is simple: Any of us can have a charter or private school move into our districts at any time, which can greatly cripple our budgets.”

Curt Craig, superintendent of Rensselaer Central School Corporation, said the bills are not about school choice.

“Students already have multiple options for receiving a quality education. The issue is the use of tax dollars to fund private entities with no public oversight or accountability over how tax dollars are spent,” he said.

Tiffany Sintkowski, a 21-year veteran of education, with the last six as a teacher at North Newton, said anyone who supports the bills doesn’t support public education.

“We, the teachers, are beyond tired,” she said. “We cannot — and will not — stand for these kinds of attacks on our school, our parents, our students, our teachers and our staff.”

Dan Sichting, superintendent of Frontier School Corporation, said the real difference will come from each school’s constituents who urge their lawmakers to reject the bills.

“I’d like to point out that legislators who get these resolutions will say, ‘That’s nice,’” he said. “You need to go back home and encourage your taxpayers to contact their elected officials by phone, by email, and say, ‘Do not support SB 412, SB 413 or HB 1005.’”

Tim Conner, Delphi Community teacher and president of the Delphi Classroom Teachers Association, echoed Sichting’s comments.

“Now is the time for us to be heard. Tell them that our students deserve their (legislators) best. Our schools, administrators and school boards are already giving students their best. Parents are already giving students their best. It’s time that our legislators step up to the plate and give students their best.”

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