I don’t think Indiana Superintendent of Public Instruction Jennifer McCormick has ever been shy about saying what she thinks, but she seems to have become even more outspoken since announcing in October that she won’t seek re-election when her term expires in January 2021.
She called out legislators on several issues Wednesday in a Bloomington discussion sponsored by the Indiana Coalition of Public Education-Monroe County and the Monroe County Community School Corp.
School funding: McCormick said the school funding increase in the budget that the Indiana House has approved – just over 2 percent each of the next two years – isn’t enough. Low pay and working conditions are creating a severe teacher shortage, she said, and more money is needed. Thirty-five percent of teachers leave the profession in their first five years.
Funding for charter schools: She took issue with a budget provision that doubles grants to charter schools for transportation, buildings and technology to $1,000 per student – at a cost to the state of $77 million over two years. “If we’ve got $77 million,” she said, “let’s put it in the pot for everybody.”
Indiana’s private-school voucher program: McCormick pointed out that the program was sold in 2011 as a way to help poor and minority students stuck in low-performing schools, but it has evolved into something quite different. Fifty-eight percent of voucher students never attended a public school. “Suburban whites are the ones taking advantage of it most,” she said.
Discrimination by religious schools that receive vouchers: The House voted down a proposal to prohibit discrimination in hiring and admissions by voucher schools; the Senate didn’t consider a bill to do the same. “I have no patience with that,” McCormick said. “If you’re taking taxpayer dollars, you should not be able to exclude anyone.”
School safety: She said school safety involves a lot more than preventing school shootings, and it requires a lot more than beefing up security. “We can talk about school safety all day long, and if we’re not talking about the social-emotional-behavioral piece, we’re wasting our breath,” she said.
Appointing the state superintendent: McCormick is officially neutral on legislation that would make Indiana’s chief state school officer an appointed position when she leaves office, but she noted that it will give Indiana’s governor unusual power over education. “Like many of you,” she said, “we’re concerned with, where is the people’s voice?”
Teacher strikes: McCormick said she definitely wouldn’t encourage anyone to violate the law (Teacher strikes are illegal in Indiana). But she said strikes or walkouts – last year in West Virginia and Oklahoma and this year in Los Angeles, Denver and Oakland – have been impossible to ignore. “Across the nation, the whole teacher issue, the whole education issue is getting attention,” she said.