The 2018 budget proposal to fund our federal government, specifically proposed federal education funding has been recently released by President Donald Trump and Education Secretary Betsy DeVos. The proposal includes more than $9 billion in cuts to funding for public schools and postsecondary students that, if passed, would be devastating for our schools and community.

As Superintendent of the Northwestern School Corporation, I know firsthand that money matters in education. Without sufficient resources, equitable educational opportunities are not available to all students. The President’s proposed federal education budget that will enable a private school voucher program siphons money from our public school students.  In fact, President Trump and Secretary DeVos have proposed cutting funding that districts like Northwestern use to provide critical resources to students and their families.

For example, the administration’s budget eliminates federal support for after-school and summer learning programs. These cuts could mean that thousands students in Indiana lose access to these enrichment and remediation programs that engage students in safe environments. President Trump and Secretary DeVos do not see what losing these programs would mean to families in our local school districts.

Educational programs and programs for children in Howard County that would be negatively impacted by President Trump’s proposed budget include summer lunch programs, summer school class offerings, and jump start opportunities for pre-K students, as well as para-professionals for many summer programs.

Additionally, The Trump administration also proposes eliminating funding to support and train excellent teachers. This loss of funding statewide could support many teachers throughout many school corporations.  However at Northwestern we utilize those funds to insure smaller class sizes. For many schools that need that funding to recruit and retain teachers, or reduce class size this would result in a damaging loss of funding.

Throughout the state, teachers in many content areas and specialties are becoming more and more difficult to attract.  In past years, Northwestern would have large candidate pools that have now eroded into smaller and smaller applicant bases that limit to opportunity to select talented individuals to fill classrooms.  In prior years, Science and Math, were difficult to secure.  Not only has that difficulty increased, but has spread to more and more content areas including special education, English learner specialists, and foreign language.

The administration’s budget doesn’t stop there – it also attacks 20 other critical programs such as arts in education, gifted and talented education, foreign languages, and science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM). While President Trump and Secretary DeVos may find these programs non-essential, the reality is that they mean a great deal to the students in the Northwestern School Corporation.

What’s worse, President Trump and Secretary DeVos are proposing to redirect these funds to private schools through a national voucher program. Although decades of research shows that voucher programs do not lead to better outcomes for students, Trump and DeVos continue to praise voucher programs as a model for increasing school choice across the country.

In most communities in Indiana and especially in Howard parents and students have public school options to consider regardless of residence.  For example, Northwestern has over 450 students that have transferred into our schools from outside the school corporation boundaries.  Additionally, few private school options exist in Howard County that accept the vouchers provided by the State of Indiana.  Due to these limited options vouchers throughout the state which are now approaching $14 million dollars annually benefit few Howard County children while the lost dollars could be added to public school tuition support.  When a student receives a private school voucher, the school he or she leaves behind loses thousands of dollars in per pupil funding. It is true that in Indiana the voucher support does not equal the per pupil state support to public schools, the small difference between the voucher credit and the public school tuition support is returned to the state general fund.  The big picture does demonstrate that over S30 million has been drawn from the state of Indiana to support voucher students attending private schools.  This illustration is not an attempt to recall the Indiana voucher program, rather an attempt to illustrate that a federal voucher program would only serve to further reduce funding to public schools while adding to the dollars available to private education providers.  We need to invest in our public schools, not drain them by diverting public funds to private schools. 

To be clear, we also know that we must improve our public schools so that all kids are ready to succeed in college, career, and life. Northwestern School Corporation has focused on maintaining our stellar graduation rate that annually exceeds 97%, shrinking the achievement gap, and getting more students into advanced courses, but there is still work to be done. Siphoning public dollars away from public schools is not the answer.

All students deserve access to an equitable education. Instead, President Trump and Secretary DeVos want to take money away from public schools—which educate 90 percent of students—to invest in private school voucher schemes. Our country has had at its foundation the belief that a quality public education is a right for all children, and has fought to provide an equal opportunity to that education for all.  It is time we hold our elected officials in Washington, D.C. to that expectation as well; they must stand up for students and say no to the administration’s irresponsible efforts to privatize our public schools.

 

Ryan Snoddy