Education reform is at the forefront of legislative agendas for the upcoming year. The Governor’s agenda includes giving parents the choice of which school to send their children and giving school superintendents more flexibility in evaluating teacher performance. Indianapolis Public Schools (IPS) has announced the approval of a move to a year-round or “balanced” calendar to start next year. President Obama’s 2011 budget looks to reform the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (No Child Left Behind) through increased investments in new innovative programs and school turnarounds. All of these initiatives need to be closely monitored because no change, whether positive or negative, comes without some cost.
Some positive news was announced by IPS last week – their graduation rates are improving. According to their data, their overall graduation rate improved by 7 percentage points, from 49 to 56 percent. That number may not sound acceptable – and it isn’t – but it is an improvement nonetheless. It’s an indication that somewhere along the line, something seems to be working.
Despite this good news, we know that we still have a lot of work to do – we cannot continue on the same course. Investing in education reform will mean allocating more money and resources to schools and community services, but how do we make those changes given the current state of the economy and the refusal to examine our current tax structure? Research and data show that investing a minimal amount now will yield greater outcomes in the future. If we increase the number of students who graduate, we will have a future workforce whose unemployment rate is less and who both increase the tax base and revenue streams. If we invest in quality early childhood education, we can improve children’s long-term educational attainment and likelihood of graduating.
It’s a tough decision that taxpayers and elected officials face. In these economic times, no one wants to hear that their taxes will increase, as evidenced by the recent approval of the state property tax caps in the November election. While the Governor and State legislature debate the budget this coming session, they will be looking to create reforms without increasing taxes. Republicans in Congress have just announced that they will be blocking all legislation until a decision is made to maintain the tax cuts that are set to expire December 31 – something that most Democrats do not support. Sure, I don’t want my property taxes to go up anymore and I do enjoy the tax cuts and the increase in my take-home pay. However, at the same time, I am a supporter of public education and I don’t want my children to have less opportunities in school than I enjoyed over 20 years ago.
Nevertheless, while these debates and stalemates go on, our children continue to attend schools that do not meet state and federal standards for academics and continue to drop out, creating financial burdens through increased unemployment and public assistance, reduced wages and decreased revenue. It’s time to step back and reexamine our priorities as a whole, including the short-term and long-term impacts of our decisions.