Gov. Eric Holcomb made a vague nod in both directions of the school choice divide in his State of the State address Tuesday. As usual, he’s playing his cards close to the vest.
“Parents not only deserve to have options about where they send their child to be educated – after all, they pay for it,” he said. “But at the same time, those options shouldn’t come at the expense of the public school system, which educates 90% of Hoosier children.”
Both parts of that statement could use clarification. When the governor says parents “deserve to have options,” it sounds like he might support expanding access to private school vouchers or adding other choice options, which are likely to be debated in the 2021 legislative session.
It’s not clear what he means that “they pay for it,” however. It’s true that parents pay taxes to support schools, but so does everyone else. If he’s talking about parents who pay their own money for private school tuition, they already have that option, regardless of what the state does.
Gov. Eric Holcomb dropped a surprise Tuesday in his State of the State address, and it was a good one. He called for tapping Indiana’s budget surplus to add $70 million to funding for K-12 schools each of the next two years.
That’s a little less than a 1 percent increase, but it’s something. And it’s on top of a 2-percent-per-year school funding hike in Holcomb’s budget proposal.
Gov. Eric Holcomb
It was a surprise because the Republicans who control both the House and Senate had signaled that Indiana’s $1.8 billion surplus was off the table in this budget-writing session. If the GOP governor says it’s not off the table, then it’s not.
The $70 million per year would help pay teacher pension costs that schools currently bear. That would free money for schools to use for other purposes. Holcomb said they should use it all to increase pay for teachers.
The funding will offset some of what school districts and charter schools pay into the Teacher Retirement Fund for teachers who joined the fund after 1996, a spokesperson for the Indiana Public Retirement System told me. Teachers who joined prior to 1996 are in a pay-as-you-go system that’s funded by the state.
Indiana Gov. Mitch Daniels gives an inspirational speech, and you almost want to believe him when he says his call for school reform is rooted in “a love for the children whose very lives and futures depend on the quality of the learning they either do or do not acquire while in our schools.”
The changes he is proposing – performance-based evaluation of teachers, restrictions on the power of teachers’ unions, even vouchers for parents who can’t afford private school tuition – are worth an honest debate. But it doesn’t help when the governor keeps repeating myths and half-truths, as he did in his State of the Union address Tuesday night.
Once again he made this claim: “Teacher quality has been found to be 20 times more important than any other factor, including poverty, in determining which kids succeed.” As School Matters reported last week, the statement simply isn’t true.
And again he said the following: “Only one in three of our children can pass the national math or reading exam.” The truth is that about one in three Hoosier eighth-graders score “proficient” on the National Assessment of Educational Progress. A proficient score, according to former NAEP advisory board member Diane Ravitch, is “equivalent to an A or a very strong B,” not a minimal passing grade.
We’ll let others fact-check the governor’s claims about taxes and job creation. But when it comes to education, he keeps bending the truth.