It’s been a rough week for the Tony Bennett education reform agenda in Indiana.
Monday, the state House of Representatives voted unanimously to drop a requirement that teacher evaluations be tied to student test scores. And Wednesday, the State Board of Education voted to return the operation of four “turnaround academies” to public school districts in Gary and Indianapolis.
Both votes represented reversals of education initiatives that then-Superintendent of Public Instruction Tony Bennett championed in 2011.
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. Continue reading
It’s tempting to think Indiana House Bill 1315 is a concern only for people in Muncie and Gary. But if state officials can abolish local control of Muncie and Gary community schools because of financial problems, they could do the same for your local district.
“There are real stakes here for a number of districts,” said Terry Spradlin, executive director of the Indiana School Boards Association. “They’re seeing that, even though we’re not Gary or Muncie, what happened to them could happen to us.”
HB 1315 doubles down on 2017 legislation that enabled the state to intervene in the Muncie and Gary districts and turn their operation over to emergency managers appointed by a state board.
Most dramatically, it would hand the operation of Muncie Community Schools over to Ball State University and turn it into a charter-like district exempt from state laws on curriculum, transportation and collective bargaining for teachers. In Gary, the bill would convert the elected local school board to an advisory committee that could meet no more than four times a year.
Legislative Democrats and teachers’ unions have been pushing back against the bill, which has been approved by the House. But Ball State and the Republican supermajority seem to strongly support it. The best hope for slowing it down may be via amendments this week in a Senate committee.