EDITORIAL: Diverting tax money to private schools will doom public schools

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That our public school system has severe flaws is a popular premise in government and among many education reformers. And $300 million in recent spending cuts to Indiana’s public schools necessitated by the state’s need to balance its recession-riddled budget certainly haven’t helped solve the schools’ problems.

The public schools’ problems would be further exacerbated by the state’s urging residents to abandon them for private schools. But that is exactly what a proposal passed 8-5 by the Indiana House Education Committee Wednesday would do.

That proposal would authorize families of four with incomes of $40,000 or less to use 90 percent of their taxes that would have gone to their public-school district for private-school tuition instead. Families of four with twice that income would qualify for private-school vouchers of 50 percent of their taxes that otherwise would have gone to public schools.

Republican education committee members told Eric Bradner of the Evansville Courier & Press that more competition from private schools would help make the public schools stronger. “I think anyone in a competitive market would agree that competition is helpful,” said Rep. Bob Behning, R-Indianapolis, the committee’s chairman and the bill’s author.

But that’s not the case when the private-school competition is being financed with the public schools’ money.

Perhaps the bill’s supporters, including Gov. Mitch Daniels and State Superintendent of Public Instruction Tony Bennett, have a secret agenda for supporting a bill that will undoubtedly lead to the hiring of more private-school teachers and fewer public-school teachers in the state.

A report released in April said Indiana’s teacher pension program is among the nation’s five most underfunded programs, with assets to cover only 35 percent of the benefits it owes by state law.

Teachers in private schools are not automatically covered by state pensions, though, so if the state promotes more teacher hiring by private schools and less by public schools it would ease its pension funding problem.

Instead, though, we would like to see the state make our public-school system stronger, which could lead to better educated Hoosiers and more tax income for the state.

That means not diverting much of the money intended for public schools to private schools.

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