The most serious problem with the school takeover law that the Indiana legislature is considering is that it will deprive the citizens of Gary and Muncie of the right to elect the people who govern their local public schools.
That’s especially problematic for Gary, a city that is 83 percent African-American. Ninety-three percent of students in Gary Community Schools are African-American. The Republican supermajority in the legislature, likely to back the bill, includes 70 representatives and 41 senators. Every single one is white.
There’s a long history in this country of white people preventing black people from voting. It was supposed to end with the 1965 Voting Rights Act, but apparently it didn’t.
Dwight Gardner, pastor of Gary’s Trinity Baptist Church, referenced that history Monday in testimony to the Legislative Council, according to the Fort Wayne Journal-Gazette. “The right to vote, to select your own representation, is an essential value of what we call freedom,” he said.
The legislation, House Bill 1315, converts the elected Gary Community Schools board to an advisory board that will have no power and can’t meet more than four times a year. The emergency manager who runs Gary schools would no longer need to consult with the school board and the city’s mayor.
It also sets the stage for Ball State University to take control of Muncie Community Schools. If the bill passes, the university’s president and trustees may appoint a school board to replace the current elected board. The district won’t have to comply with many of the regulations that apply to other public schools. Ball State’s leadership has embraced the plan, and a majority of the elected school board is reportedly on board.
The state took charge of the two districts last year after declaring them to be financially distressed. HB 1315 strengthens the state’s authority and moves the districts even further from local control. Legislators failed to pass it in the regular session that ended in March, so they plan to push it through in a one-day special session Monday with little debate and no chance for amendments.
Lawmakers blamed the two districts’ financial distress on mismanagement and poor oversight by the elected school boards. The implication was that the people of Gary and Muncie forfeited their right to choose their elected officials by voting for people who screwed up. But the right to vote isn’t like a driver’s license, a privilege that can be taken away if you don’t exercise it responsibly.
“Government of the people, for the people and by the people,” Rev. Gardner said. “Free people get to participate in their own governance, and if that governance is not for the people, there is a structure that’s available to the people to change that leadership. That’s the greatness of America.”