Indiana Superintendent of Public Instruction Jennifer McCormick is calling on the state legislature to protect public schools from funding cuts and to protect students and school staff from discrimination.
Her proposals come in a 24-page document targeted to the Indiana General Assembly, which will begin its 2021 session in January. McCormick, Indiana’s last elected state superintendent, will leave office at the end of this year – unless Dr. Woody Myers pulls an upset in the governor’s race and reappoints her.
“I leave this document to outline the critical policy actions that must be taken, regardless of who fills the seat of Indiana’s top education leader,” McCormick writes. “Our students deserve it, educators demand it, and our communities need it to ensure Indiana’s future success.”
McCormick also urges the legislature to move Indiana to a single system of school accountability, expand internet connectivity for students and take steps to level the regulatory playing field between traditional public schools and charter and private schools. It’s a gutsy agenda, especially considering that McCormick often has crossed swords with Republicans who control the Statehouse and has recently distanced herself from them by endorsing Myers and other Democrats.
In the document, titled EducationFIRST, McCormick notes that the pandemic-caused recession has greatly reduced state tax revenue, which means legislators will be under pressure to cut spending. She says the state should “at a minimum” maintain its current level of support for schools, and it should do its best to protect funding for summer school, textbooks for low-income families and other services.
She proposes a two-year moratorium on opening new charter schools and adding more private schools to Indiana’s voucher system. Continuing to add more state-funded charter and voucher schools, she argues, would mean existing schools will get a smaller and smaller share of the funding pie.
And she would roll back state facilities grants for charter schools from $750 to $500 per pupil, the level where they were two years ago. The grants are intended to help charter schools pay for buildings and some operating costs; unlike public schools, charter schools can’t levy property taxes for those needs.
Probably the boldest parts of her agenda deal with inclusivity and protections for LGBTQ students and staff. This is a legislature, after all, that didn’t adopt a hate-crimes law until 2019 and then refused to say explicitly that gay and transgender Hoosiers were protected.
McCormick points out that one-fourth of Hoosier high school students report feeling unsafe at school, LGBTQ youth are at high risk of being threatened and attacked, and Black students are four times as likely to receive out-of-school suspensions as their white classmates. Her policy proposals would expand anti-discrimination protections for charter schools and voucher-accepting private schools to include gender identity, sexual orientation and marital status.
“Indiana legislators must be committed to creating laws that provide a safe learning and work environment where all members of the school community are treated with dignity and respect, regardless of their gender identity or expression, sexual orientation, or marital status,” she writes.
The Republican leadership in the Indiana House and Senate may not welcome McCormick’s policy proposals, but legislators should push to have them considered.