It’s not good business to cause financial hardship for schools.
If economic development is in any way related to the quality of public education, then business leaders must demand a shift in public education policy that places public schools as the top priority. The ability of any community to attract new economic development is dependent upon having a skilled and available work force. Only a healthy and highly regarded public education system can provide this resource. This only makes good business sense.
Unfortunately, this goal is not the top priority of Indiana education and finance policies. Rather, current policies unjustly demean and encourage the abandonment of public schools. Responsibility for improving public schools has been abdicated in favor of encouraging parents to simply search for other schools of choice. The choices, in the form of charter and private schools, have proven themselves to be either ineffective or cost-inefficient. From a business sense, this a poor return on investment of tax dollars.
After almost a decade of charter schools in Indiana, there is no evidence that the concept of privatization of education is able to be as successful as public school education.
A standard bearer of cost-ineffective spending is the concept of private school vouchers masquerading as enlightened educational policy. Limited public school funding has been diverted to private school vouchers initially intended to serve economically poor, low achieving public school students to attend higher performing private schools at no additional cost to the state. Now, $16 million of unanticipated costs are taken from the public school budget for already high achieving private school students who have never attended public school and who will have no impact on increasing state graduation rates and skill levels. This funding exceeds the mere $5 million for non-English speaking students, the mere $10 million for pre-school education, and the astounding $0 for teacher improvement.
Public school shortcomings have been exaggerated. Despite data showing graduation rate, attendance rate and performance on national and state assessments, which are at or near historic highs, negative perceptions have been fueled through the use of an oversimplified school grading system. This system has produced erratically illogical fluctuations of school grades for many schools from one year to the next. Such inaccurate school grades harm local economic development efforts to attract new business by casting doubt as to whether a future workforce might be skilled enough to support future economic growth.
The economic recession resulted in the takeaway of more than $300 million per year for public education, never to be replaced. On top of that, tax caps and major reductions in various state taxes continue to result in compounded, long-term negative financial impacts on public schools. In fact, public school systems across the state–rural, suburban and urban–are facing financial crisis, which is not a good selling point for economic development.
For financially endangered schools, the only local remedy provided by the state is a divisive, even repetitive tax referendum–an inequitable strategy not viable for poorer communities and a growing imposition on even the wealthy.
In a state where tax revenue is declining to the detriment of all public schools, there should be no future tax reductions that will reduce revenue for public schools. With limited funds, there should be an end to further expansion of private school vouchers and charter schools that diminish and divert funding from public schools. There needs to be equitable and appropriate funding of all public schools so that the downward spiral toward financial crisis can be ended.
With educational and financial strategies focused on improving public schools, along with more accurate and better diagnostic accountabilities, all of our public schools can be more successful, our workforce more skilled, and our state more financially credible. In so doing, economic development will be more successful as well. These are the best options for maximum return on investment of tax dollars.
It’s only good business.
Tony Lux, Ph.D., is the retired superintendent of the Merrillville School Corp., with 42 years of experience in education, 19 as superintendent of Merrillville schools.