David Hoppe

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:: Republicans vs. cities, round 2

by David Hoppe

Indiana’s one-party (Republican) legislature keeps talking to itself, which leaves the rest of us saying, “What?!”

Our fearless leaders seem to have decided that Indiana really doesn’t need its cities anymore. They’re doing their best to make urban living as unappealing as possible.

That’s the message being sent by the cuts to urban public school systems in the new state budget.

While the Republicans are touting spending increases to public education, these increases are selective. They will go to suburban schools systems.

These systems are growing and need the money, say Republicans. But as we should know by now, a major reason these systems are growing is because families with kids who live in Indiana cities and towns are faced with a stark choice. They can choose to stay where they are and try to navigate their way through a tangle of public and private options or, if they are able, move to the ‘burbs.

If you’ve lived in an Indiana city for any length of time, you’ve seen this happen. That cool young couple next door has a kid. Next thing you know they’re saying that as much as they love living in town, they’re thinking it’s time to move out to where the schools are better. Their kid is only going to be a kid once, after all.

Indiana Republicans will say this boils down to competition. A competition that city schools (let’s not mention the thousands of kids who attend these schools) are losing.

So cut the funding to city schools. The Republican budget calls for cuts to Indianapolis Public Schools of between $22 and $32 million over the next two years. Hamilton Southeastern, on the other hand, will get at least $23 million more.

But if this is a competition, what, exactly, does it take to win? Michigan City Area Schools (MCAS), a comparatively small system with a student population of less than 6,000, has struggled with an array of challenges — some self-inflicted — for years.

Yet in March, MCAS was named a “District of Distinction” by a national magazine and cited for dramatic increases in its ISTEP passing rates.

Unfortunately, the system’s student population, like the population of Michigan City overall, is falling. School funding in Indiana follows students; when parents move to suburban systems, like Hamilton Southeastern, they take funding with them. And so the Republican legislature will reward MCAS’s improved performance with another challenge to surmount: new rounds of budget cuts.

There’s no secret about the role public school systems play in the lives of their communities. Strong public systems are magnets for families and employers. When it comes to assessing a place’s quality of life, the quality of its schools is a leading indicator. Nothing could boost Indianapolis or (even more) Michigan City, like public school bragging rights

Most Hoosiers live in urban areas; what’s more, cities and towns generate major revenue for the rest of the state. Instead of hollowing out urban school systems, you’d think our Republican legislature would try finding new ways to help.