Legislators question state’s education funding policies
CHESTERTON — Nearly 100 people turned out Saturday morning to listen to and question area legislators at a forum sponsored by the Porter County Retired Teachers Association.
Reps. Ed Soliday, R-Valparaiso; Chuck Moseley, D-Portage; and Scott Pelath, D-Michigan City, and Sens. Ed Charbonneau, R-Valparaiso, and Karen Tallian, D-Portage, were on hand at the event moderated by former legislator Ralph Ayres.
All agreed that school funding is currently inadequate and the 1 percent increase called for in the budget proposal of Gov. Mike Pence falls short of what is needed. They also questioned the wisdom of a proposed $750 million income tax cut.
Noting that school funding is back at 2008 spending levels, Charbonneau said, “It’s time to put money back into K-12 education, teachers pensions and transportation.”
Soliday drew a distinction between the amount of money spent on education and the distribution of those funds. “We can argue whether to increase spending 1 percent, 2 percent or 5 percent; the importance is the distribution.”
He called for a change in the school funding formula and said the current allocation formula favors older, shrinking school districts and rapidly expanding school districts to the detriment of stable school districts.
“The argument that urban schools need more money is worn out,” he said.
Drawing audience applause, Tallian called for making kindergarten mandatory and funded within the K-12 budget. “Do we restore the money to K-12 education or do we spend the $750 million to give tax refunds?”
Pelath speculated along broader policy lines. “The debate right now is not just about having vouchers and a wild-west expansion of charter schools. Are we even going to have public schools?”
He called for a campaign to educate the public.
“We have to reinvent the economic philosophy of the state. We have to resell the public on the things they want and care about. We have to resell the importance of public education. Once you educate the public the politicians will go along.”
Moseley called a 1 percent increase in school funding inadequate given the 21⁄2 percent inflation rate in the state. “I have a hard time doing the math on that. Are we paying today what we paid in 2008?”