"The whole people must take upon themselves the education of the whole people and be willing to bear the expenses of it. There should not be a district of one mile square, without a school in it, not founded by a charitable individual, but maintained at the public expense of the people themselves." -- John Adams

"No money shall be drawn from the treasury, for the benefit of any religious or theological institution." -- Indiana Constitution Article 1, Section 6.

"...no man shall be compelled to frequent or support any religious worship, place, or ministry whatsoever, nor shall be enforced, restrained, molested, or burthened in his body or goods, nor shall otherwise suffer on account of his religious opinions or belief; but that all men shall be free to profess, and by argument to maintain, their opinion in matters of religion, and that the same shall in no wise diminish enlarge, or affect their civil capacities." – Thomas Jefferson

Saturday, July 13, 2019

Answers hiding in plain sight


Today's editorial on the News Sentinel page of the Fort Wayne Journal Gazette about Governor Holcomb's Teacher Pay commission is generally favorable for an increase in salary for the state's teachers. They argue that Indiana's teacher salaries are generally lower than neighboring states and that there is a big variance in the pay of different Indiana districts.

State teacher compensation commission needs to come up with plan to increase pay scale
Indiana’s average pay is $50,218 a year, which is between $2,000-$10,000 less than teachers in neighboring states. Starting pay for teachers at some school districts in Indiana is less than $35,000. It is believed low pay is one reason there is a shortage of qualified teachers at many schools.
and
The highest average pay in the state was Hamilton Southeastern Schools at $64,983, while the lowest was Medora Schools at $37,221.
The chair of the commission is a retired Anthem Insurance executive, Michael Smith. The commission is filled with business executives, school administrators...oh, and one teacher. Hooray.
Indiana teacher pay was comparable to surrounding states until 2009, [Smith] said, and the commission is trying to discern what has changed since then.
What's changed since then? Let me think...

This reminds me of the statements in 2015 of Bob Behning and Dennis Kruse, at that time chairs of the House and Senate Education committees, respectively, questioning why there was a teacher shortage in Indiana.

Indiana legislative committee to study teacher shortage (August 16, 2015)
The Republican chairmen of the House and Senate education committees had asked General Assembly leaders to approve having the legislative education study committee review what is causing the drop and how the state could respond.
Why is there a teacher shortage? Teachers know why.

Why have Indiana teacher salaries failed to keep pace since 2009 (actually much longer than that, but who's counting)? Again, teachers likely know why.


CORRELATION DOES NOT IMPLY CAUSATION, BUT...

What has changed since 2009?

I admit that correlation does not imply causation but just consider Mitch Daniels, Tony Bennett, and the 2008-2012 Daniels administration...

As Governor, Mitch Daniels, with the help of then State Superintendent of Public Instruction, Tony Bennett, a Daniels-heavy State Board of Education (run by Bennett), and a Republican supermajority in the Indiana House and Senate, declared war on public schools and public school teachers.

During the Daniels administration (and since) Indiana has seen bills and policies which,
  • required teachers to be evaluated in large part based on the achievement test scores of their students
  • restrict teacher collective bargaining to money only. No more bargaining for class size, teacher prep time, or hours of work.
  • weakened teacher job security. No longer did a teacher have due process if a district wanted to fire him/her. No longer would an impartial arbitrator listen to both sides and make a judgment.
  • allow anyone with a college degree to teach their subject in high school with no previous pedagogical training. Apparently, the State Board of Education believes that child development and classroom management skills taught in education schools aren't necessary to begin the year teaching a group of teenagers.
  • restrict teacher contracts to a maximum of two years thereby imposing repeated bargaining on school districts at least every other year. 
  • changed the funding of public schools through the passage of a Daniels supported property tax cap which shifted school funding responsibilities to the General Assembly. Equitable funding of public schools was now up to the whims of the legislature.
  • reduce the importance of experience and education level as a factor in teacher salaries. 
  • expanded the 2001 charter school law making the increase of charter schools easier.
  • opened the door to, and regularly increased economic support for, vouchers...public tax dollars diverted to private schools.
Indiana Choice Scholarships
In 2011 the initial school voucher program in Indiana passed while Mitch Daniels was governor. In 2013 the Indiana General Assembly passed HB 1003, which amended the school voucher program by creating tax credits for those already enrolled in private school and expanding voucher eligibility.Mike Pence was governor and supported the changes. [1]
Indiana has seen a burst of new charter schools since 2011 law
The number of charter schools in Indiana has grown rapidly since a 2011 state law passed expanding authority to approve and oversee them to new sponsors, and the acceleration looks likely to continue over the next two years.


THE ANSWERS ARE IN PLAIN SIGHT

What has changed since 2009? The Teacher Pay Commission can find the answer in plain sight...though perhaps they could use a few more actual teachers at the table.

Why haven't teacher salaries kept pace with our neighboring states?
  • When you have one pot of money for education, and you try to support three separate, and often competing school systems, something is going to be underfunded. In Indiana, it's public schools and teacher salaries.
Why is there a teacher shortage?
  • When you underfund a profession, take away job security, and ignore the voices of actual practitioners, young people will choose other careers.
Now, what should we do with a nearly half-billion-dollar budget surplus?


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Sunday, July 7, 2019

2019 Medley #11 - Vouchers and the Wall Between Church and State

Vouchers; Government shouldn't interfere with religious institutions, and church wallets shouldn't be filled with government dollars.

There's a reason that I've been quiet on this blog for the last month...posting only a Father's Day remake of an annual call to fathers to read to their children, and a quick Medley in the middle of June.

Since mid-May, I have been somewhat self-absorbed dealing with a cancer diagnosis. This was followed by successful surgery, and now, recuperation. I have been assured that the offending cells have been totally removed and no new ones apparently remain. This is, of course, good news (though no guarantee of future events). Until the final pathology report, however, I was unsure of the future. Instead of commenting on public education issues, I was contemplating the very real possibility that cancer had spread into lymph nodes in my neck which would mean further treatment...chemotherapy and radiation.

As luck, and modern medicine, would have it, I was spared any additional treatment (for the time being, at least) and right now I can focus on recovering from the effects of surgery, a much more positive - if slightly uncomfortable - activity than worrying about putting my digital life in order.

I didn't ignore the news about public schools entirely. There has been news about privatization through vouchers. People like Bill Gates and the Koch Brothers are still devising ways to monetize the education of our children (because wealth implies expertise in education, right?), but some main-stream publications are writing about the conflicts caused by mixing tax dollars with religious education. Also, in some places, public schools were supported and privatization wasn't promoted...thank you Texas (I never thought I would say that!). But it's not all flowers and chocolates...


VOUCHERS

The Supreme Court

First, two articles about the Supreme Court which will hear an appeal from Montana, whose state Supreme Court denied an end-run around giving tax money to religious schools. The case involves "tax-credit scholarships" which are essentially a way to launder money so that tax dollars can go to unregulated, unaccountable religious schools.

Until we repeal the First Amendment prohibiting the establishment of religion, the state shouldn't be allowed to favor religious institutions with tax dollars.

There's a difference between public and private. We don't subsidize folks who want to use a country club instead of public parks. We don't award vouchers so people can shop for books at Barnes and Noble instead of the public library. We don't give tax credits to people who drive their own vehicles instead of using public transportation. We shouldn't give any sort of tax credit/rebate/voucher for those who choose not to use public schools.

The Supreme Court Has Accepted A Case That Could Undermine Church-State Separation And Public Schools
AU President and CEO Rachel Laser said, “Montana taxpayers should never be forced to fund religious education – that’s a fundamental violation of religious freedom. The Montana Supreme Court’s decision protects both church-state separation and public education. It’s a double win.”

This Case Could Break The Wall Between Church And School
The case matters because it could open the door wide to the use of public tax dollars for private religious schools. The court could also drive a stake through the heart of voucher programs aimed at shuttling public funds to private religious schools, no matter how clever and convoluted the voucher scheme may be. That last possibility seems less likely, because, as with many issues beloved by the right, this is an issue that may be facing the friendliest court in many decades. This is definitely one case to watch for this summer.


Keep Tax Dollars and Religious Institutions Separate

Why does voucher money go to schools banning gay students? | Editorial

Private schools ought to be able to decide who sits in their classrooms (as students or teachers). Governments should not interfere with religious institutions' ability to freely exercise their beliefs.

On the other hand, the government shouldn't pay to support those beliefs.

In other words, we ought to keep government money out of the hands of religious institutions. Otherwise, religion might use government dollars to further their beliefs, thereby establishing state-supported religious institutions. Otherwise, government strings attached to government dollars might stifle the free exercise of religion.

That was Jefferson's point in calling for a "wall of separation between Church and State." Keeping the government's hands off religion, and religion's fingers out of the public treasury are better for both the church and the state.
Gov. Ron DeSantis and Republican legislators promote spending millions in tax dollars on tuition vouchers at unregulated private schools as providing opportunities for more choices for students. What they don’t mention is some of those private schools have policies that say they will not accept gay students and will expel any they discover who are enrolled. Florida should not be effectively sanctioning such discrimination, and companies that have been supporting the existing voucher program should think twice about it.

School vouchers threaten religious autonomy

An article from 2015 confirms this concept...
In states’ attempts to honor the separation of church and state, most private religious schools have fewer regulations to meet than their public school counterparts, which is an appropriate balance between the state interest in educating our children and respecting citizens’ First Amendment rights as long as parents or private foundations are paying the tuition and other education costs.

However, when the state subsidizes these educational costs, then this balance must shift to give the state mechanisms to oversee how the public tax dollars are being spent. Increasing government regulation over private religious schools threatens both their autonomy and their religious mission.

Indiana's Catholic schools get millions in public money. Some lawmakers want that to stop.

And here we are in Indiana facing just such a problem. Do we prohibit private schools from choosing who their teachers should be, or do we refuse to allow public money to be used at a religious institution which discriminates?
When Cathedral High School fired a gay teacher last week over his same-sex marriage, it renewed a long-simmering debate about public money that goes to private schools in the form of taxpayer-funded scholarships.

The school, which has said it was forced by the Archdiocese of Indianapolis to terminate the teacher or lose its status as a Catholic institution, has received more than $6 million from the state over the last six years through Indiana’s “choice scholarship” program.

Indiana began offering “choice scholarships” in 2011 to help low-income families afford a private education. It’s now the country’s largest such voucher program, directing more than $134 million to private schools last year.

Vouchers have been controversial since their inception, with critics saying they undermine the state’s public school system by siphoning students and money. In 2013, the state Supreme Court upheld the program as constitutional but that hasn’t stopped calls for reform.

“Again, we see a public institution engaged in an obvious act of discrimination because of sexual identity,” said Democratic Rep. Phil GiaQuinta, Indiana’s House minority leader, “but we do not have to sit by and watch this happen.


BE CAREFUL WHAT YOU WISH FOR

When The Wall Of Separation Comes Down
Here's what's going to happen. If you win the right to spend tax dollars on religious institutions (like, say, private schools), sooner or later you are going to be shocked to discover that your own tax dollars are supporting Sharia Law High School or Satan's Own Academy. And that's not going to be the end of it. Where resources are limited (there can only be, for instance, as many meeting opening prayers as there are meetings), some agency will have to pick winners and losers. Worst case scenario-- you get a government agency empowered to screen churches and religions. You can paper over it, as Kenai Peninsula apparently did, by turning it into a lottery (but what does it mean that God apparently let Satan's crew win that drawing).

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