By Leah Sander
WARSAW — Area school, government and business leaders have gathered in support of Indiana public education.
Representatives from Kosciusko, Elkhart, St. Joseph and Marshall counties met at Warsaw Community High School’s Performing Arts Center at an invitation-only event on Tuesday, March 23. Some of the schools in those counties are part of the Northern Lakes Conference (NLC) in athletics.
The meeting was motivated in part by a resolution the Warsaw Community School Board passed opposing proposed legislation in the Indiana General Assembly which would establish education savings accounts for students at nonpublic schools.
“We started thinking about how we could expand the resolution that Warsaw Community Schools enacted and we noticed that other school boards were doing the same, so we wanted to get together,” said WCS Board President Heather Reichenbach.
“Our first instinct was to contact the NLC schools just because we had that natural connection with our competitive efforts, but then as we started those conversations we realized that there was actually a broader community concern amongst cross-sections of the community that were concerned about this issue, so we engaged those people which are represented within the declaration that we have here this evening and it just kind of took flight from there,” she continued.
Horizon Education Alliance of Elkhart County’s President and CEO Brian Wiebe then put together the event. At least one representative from the more than 20 public school corporations in those counties was present Tuesday save for one corporation.
The four counties took part in creating a declaration that “ask(s) both (state) House and Senate members to oppose House Bill 1005 and Senate Bills 412 and 413.”
“We believe the dramatic expansion of Indiana School Choice Scholarships and the creation of Education Savings Accounts (ESAs) will harm our local public schools and the communities they serve. This legislation would adversely impact 90% of Hoosier students and all of our communities,” the declaration also states.
Attendees at the meeting were invited to sign the declaration, with the list of signatures to be given to legislators on Thursday, March 25.
Meeting attendees also heard from Dr. Michael Hicks, a professor of economics and business research and director of the Center for Business and Economic Research at Ball State University.
Hicks noted a problem is that “Indiana has too few very well-educated residents or at least as a share of our population to fully participate in the economy that’s transforming in the 21st century.”
He said Indiana has not had as many college students as the rest of the U.S. in recent years.
That’s hindered businesses from coming to Indiana as they may be looking for college graduates to fill positions, said Hicks. He added that while state leaders have worked on expanding school choice recently, an increasing percentage of the population has gone to public over private schools.
That includes public charter schools, but Hicks said those could be not factored in and more students would still be in traditional public education.
“We now have a higher share of Hoosier children in local public schools than we had at any time in our history,” he said. That’s significant, Hicks said, because the state has worked on expanding school choice and moved money away from public schools in recent years.
Following Hicks’ talk, school representatives were invited to place the resolutions their boards passed on 24 music stands on the stage, one for each of the state legislators whose districts are in the four counties. The resolutions will be delivered to the legislators.
Community representatives, including those in government, business and education, then took turns reading the declaration.
WCS Superintendent Dr. David Hoffert offered his own thoughts to media members following the event.
He said he was thankful to see community leaders from the four counties come to show support for public education. He pointed out around 50 were present from Kosciusko County alone.
“And it’s more than just school personnel, again that’s why today it was so powerful to have business leaders here, to have civic leaders here, to have nonprofit leaders here all coming together realizing the impact that public education has on each one of us in so many different ways whether it’s our kids’ education, whether it’s our education or whether it’s the economics here of our local community,” he said.