January 19, 2011 // Local

School choice a ‘civil right, human right’ for parents and children

INDIANAPOLIS — Indiana Gov. Mitch Daniels told 150 lawmakers, a packed House Chamber gallery and countless others watching outside and electronically that school choice was a “civil right, the human right,” and a matter of “justice” for parents and children in Indiana, during his seventh state of the state address Jan. 14.

With Republican majorities in the House and Senate, there is little stopping state lawmakers from enacting educational opportunities for children to attend a private school of their parent’s choice-and in many cases, it will be a Catholic school.

Daniels credited lawmakers for expanding public school choice options by allowing families to attend the school of their choice tuition free within existing school districts and through charter schools, but said, “One more step is necessary.”

“For families who cannot find the right traditional public school, or the right charter school for their child, and are not wealthy enough to move near one, justice requires that we help,” said Daniels. “We should let these families apply dollars that the state spends on their child to the non-government school of their choice.”

Glenn Tebbe, Indiana Catholic Conference (ICC) executive director said that the Catholic Church has been working toward and ready for this change for decades. “We agree with Gov. Daniels,” said Tebbe. “School choice is a matter of justice for all.

“Parents, as the primary teachers and caregivers of their children, have the fundamental right and responsibility to educate their children,” said Tebbe. “The state must make possible the right of parents to choose appropriate educational opportunities best-suited to their children’s needs. The governor’s initiative does this.

“Parents without financial means are often faced with fewer options. We are concerned about children who do not have a fair shot at a good education either because of a failing school district, or just because the school setting is not the right fit for that child,” said Tebbe. “Catholic schools will not replace public schools, but offer an alternative for those who need one.”

“School choice is definitely a civil right and it is the right thing to do,” said Rep. Bob Behning, R-Indianapolis, who chairs the House Education Committee and who will carry the education reform bill in the House. “Over time school choice has become a civil right. Unfortunately minority children usually are in school corporations that are not performing well and they have no options.

Behning said, “The scholarship plan is based on where the children live. The scholarship amount will be a 90 percent reimbursement of the ADM (average daily membership) cost based on where they live.”

Behning gave the example that if a student who lived in Indianapolis Public Schools (IPS) wanted to attend a Catholic school in the archdiocese, the scholarship formula would work like this. The IPS ADM is $8,000, that student would get a 90 percent reimbursement of $7,200 to use toward the school of their choice. If the Catholic school is charging $4,200 for the year, the state reimbursement or scholarship award to the student would be at $4,200.

Behning said, “At this point, I’m optimistic it will make it through the House.” Behning who has been a school choice advocate for years said, “The reality is most families in Indiana will continue to choose a public school. The goal of the education reform package is to provide an atmosphere in schools that will create an outstanding public school system,” he said. “The private school choice is just a piece of the reform package. It needs to work all together. The package, in tandem, will move Indiana forward in school performance,” said Behning.

Sen. Dennis Kruse, R-Auburn, Sen. Education Committee chair, said the legislature will work to expand public school choice by expanding charter schools, and granting private school choice through opportunity scholarships for students to use at non-government schools.

“The scholarships target students most in need of school choice opportunities, and it is a matter of justice,” said Sen. Kruse. “The more choices we offer parents the better off society is. There will also be a new level of competition.”

When asked if he thought the private school choice piece would pass this year, Sen. Kruse responded, “We definitely have our work cut out for us, but I’m optimistic that it will pass. I think it’s achievable.”

These reforms are going to offer Catholic schools a very increased role and growth in education,” said Kruse. “They will be able to help more students than ever before.”

In his concluding remarks of his state of the state address, the governor told lawmakers, “Our children are waiting. Fellow citizens are waiting. History is waiting. You’re going to do great things. It’s going to be a session to remember. I can’t wait.”

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