To the editor:
Jim Lucas isn’t sharing all of the facts.
In his recent letter to the editor, he wrote “… the ISTEP was the only test that met the federal requirements.” He implies that legislators had few choices because of the federal constraints of No Child Left Behind. This simply isn’t true. Indiana legislators repeatedly elected to force children to endure more hours of testing than required. The NCLB has NEVER required that social studies be tested, yet incumbent legislators refused to remove social studies from the ISTEP despite the fact that it causes students an extra day of testing.
Even worse, those same incumbents have bilked taxpayers out of more than $100 million for unnecessary tests. First, lawmakers required millions of dollars worth of testing revisions with their disastrous decision to adopt the Common Core Standards. Once those failed, lawmakers dipped back into taxpayer pockets to write new standards and a new test.
Perhaps Rep. Lucas would like you to believe that there were simply no other choices. There have always been other options. Hoosiers spent $24 million for just one year of ISTEP testing. Lawmakers could have stayed in the PARCC consortium and spent just $12 million for the most recent test. Another option would have been to use the Iowa Basics Test, which averages just $10 to $15 per student as opposed to Indiana’s current expenditure of $54 per student.
The waste of time and money is just part of the pattern of incumbent lawmakers. As Lucas himself pointed out, just over half of Hoosier tax dollars marked for education are spent outside the classroom. In some communities, only one-third of tax dollars ever make it to the classroom. This is not a new problem, yet despite Lucas’ service on the education committee and two terms as a legislator, he hasn’t authored a single bill that addresses this issue.
What kind of bills did Lucas support? Among the 14 bills touted by Lucas is Senate Bill 9, now Public Law 119. This law allows charter schools to report LESS data to the Indiana Department of Education. While the debate surrounding charters and vouchers remains a contentious one, certainly most taxpayers would agree that any school that receives Hoosier dollars should be required to report all pertinent data to receive funding.
Lucas has continued to support the expansion of charter schools in Indiana. This is despite the fact that 53 percent of charter schools received a D or an F as their school grade. Sadly, charter schools supported by Lucas have just a 34 percent graduation rate with some schools reporting only a 15 percent graduation rate. Ironically, these failing charters received $665 MORE per student than traditional schools.
While Lucas is quick to tout increases in education funding, these numbers are better understood in context. Though, to be honest, that context is hard to come by. First, schools continue to recover from cuts imposed by Mitch Daniels. Second, the value of any additional funding is offset by changing population and new expenditures. The reality is funding varies from year to year. Total funding has increased approximately 1.7 percent since 2010. Enrollment has has increased about 1.2 percent. Though Hoosier teachers are thankful for every dollar invested, the reality is that it isn’t so much a story of increased funding as it is keeping pace with expanding enrollment.
Extra testing, millions of wasted tax dollars and support for failing initiatives are the facts that Lucas is hesitant to share. While Lucas might optimistically point to new opportunities for “moving forward” with schools, many educators know his reign could better be labeled as “missed opportunities.”