“What is happening to K-12 age students who are not in public school, both during their school years and when they enter the workforce?” This question has been driving research done by the League of Women Voters of Montgomery County’s Education Committee during the past two years. This study has brought to light issues of concern about student rights and school financing.
About 25 years ago, homeschooling was legalized in Indiana. Nearly 20 years ago the first charter schools were allowed, and in 2011, the first virtual schools were chartered. Virtual schools are charter schools that operate online. These alternatives to federally mandated public schools are often labeled as “school choice” by proponents. The Indiana legislature has facilitated these types of schools and has provided funding for other private schools by adopting a funding formula that “lets money follow the student.” This means that in Indiana, if a student chooses to enroll in a virtual charter school, for instance, the charter school will receive state funding on a per-pupil basis in order to provide an education for that student. Whatever “school” provides the education to the student receives the state funds allocated for each pupil in the equivalent public school. (For example, during the last three years when 79 students exited our county public schools to enroll in virtual charter schools, this stripped North Montgomery, South Montgomery and Crawfordsville School systems of $502,993.)
The League of Women Voters position on education states that “the federal government shares with other levels of government the responsibility to provide an equitable, quality public education for all children pre-K through grade 12. A quality public education is essential for a strong, viable and sustainable democratic society and is a civil right.”
The Education Committee’s research shows that parents who take the job of home schooling seriously and are dedicated, determined and work hard to educate their children to the best of their abilities produce graduates who attend college, get good jobs and are successful adults. The same can be said for parents who elect to use a charter school or a virtual school and then work hard to be sure the child succeeds. In these cases, school choice works and students are appropriately educated and go on to become productive members of our nation’s workforce.
However, the Education Committee uncovered several troubling issues that affect students’ right to receive an “equitable, quality” education within the charter school system, especially in virtual charter schools. Furthermore, a great deal of taxpayer money has, during this era of charter and virtual schools, gone to private profit-making companies which have been paid millions of dollars of state funds to educate Indiana’s students, but, in many cases, have neither provided proper teaching experiences nor graduated a meaningful percentage of students. Several virtual schools are now shuttered, leaving thousands of Indiana students without appropriate education and underprepared for work force or post-secondary experiences. These private companies that advertised that they would educate tens of thousands of Indiana students now owe the state of Indiana millions of dollars. Many of those companies are based out of state.
This means that not only have students been slighted, but this “vanished” money has been lost to the public system which by federal, state and local law and oversight provides education for every student.
Recently, too, a trend has developed in which students leave school to be “homeschooled.” Because homeschooling in Indiana is almost entirely unregulated, such students who are, in essence, “dropping out” take advantage of a loophole to claim they are continuing their educations. Unfortunately this practice casts unfair light on honorable homeschooling programs. “Dropping out” in this way also denies the student to her or his right to an education. This practice deprives our community of a prepared workforce as well.
This snarled situation is ongoing in Indiana and affects every child of school age. School funding also affects our state’s current and future economy. We urge citizens to follow the news to learn more. If you are a parent of school age students, be especially vigilant.
The League of Women Voters, a non-partisan, multi-issue organization encourages informed and active participation in government, works to increase public understanding of major policy issues and influences public policy through education and advocacy. All men and women are invited to join the LWV where hands-on work to safeguard democracy leads to civic improvement. For information about the League, visit the website www.lwvmontco.org or voice mail 765-361-2136.