In Mike Pence’s world, affluence is a virtue, worthy of being rewarded by the state. How else can one explain the governor’s education funding plan, included in the budget proposal he put forward last week?
Initial details were sketchy; maybe Pence will reveal more in his State of the State address tonight. But according to State Impact Indiana and the Indianapolis Star, he wants to increase funding for K-12 schools by only 1 percent each of the next two years – this when the state has more than $2 billion in the bank and he also wants to cut income taxes by 10 percent.
In the second year, the increase would only go to “high-achieving” schools: those that get an A or a B or improve by at least one letter grade in state ratings, and those where at least 90 percent of students graduate or pass the third-grade reading test. If you accept the thesis that funding should be an incentive for improvement, it could make sense to direct money to schools that raise their grades. But rewarding schools that get As and Bs is like giving a handout to those that need it least.
As of now, anyway, Indiana’s school grading metrics are based primarily on test scores and only secondarily on students’ academic growth. And research has consistently shown that family wealth is strongly correlated with test scores.
Matthew Di Carlo of the Albert Shanker Institute demonstrates that low-poverty schools are much more likely than high-poverty schools to get As and Bs in Indiana. He finds that a high-poverty school is about 20 times more likely to get a D or F than a low-poverty school.
Here’s another way to look at it: There are a dozen public school districts in Indiana where fewer than 20 percent of students qualify for free or reduced-price school lunches. In those districts, 76 schools were awarded As last year, 22 got Bs, four got Cs and one got a D. It would be darned difficult for most schools in the wealthiest areas of the state to not qualify for the Pence pay-off.
To steal a phrase, these schools were born on third base and Pence credits them with hitting a triple.
John Krull of Franklin College and the Statehouse File news service calls it what it is: social Darwinism – which, he adds, seems odd coming from an evangelical Christian like Pence.
The good news is that the idea seemed to get a skeptical reception from Sen. Luke Kenley, R-Noblesville, who chairs the Senate Appropriations Committee. Kenley, who has emerged as the voice of sanity at the Statehouse now that Democrats are consigned to super-minority status, said school funding needs to be “fair and appropriate.” Pence’s proposal appears to be neither.