Monday, September 19, 2011

Ballard Education Plan Lacks Solutions

When Melina Kennedy released her education plan, many educators cheered. While it's true that the Mayor of Indianapolis has, as Greg Ballard put it, no "jurisdictional authority" over public school districts in the city, the Mayor has a bully pulpit that is pretty darn big and can create programs and initiatives to address many of the things our students lack when they reach public school doors. Kennedy's plan shows vision. Ballard's recently-released plan is more of another bandage on the problem.

Kennedy wants to try to focus on literacy issues with our youngsters. Soon, all third graders will have to pass a reading test to move on to fourth grade. It's a reform I tend to agree with. Studies show that if students are not reading on grade level by the third grade that they will continue to be behind.

Kennedy's plan puts a special focus at a city level on creating programs that will aid our schools in getting students reading on grade level by grade three. Mayor Ballard has no solution targeting this fundamental issue. Instead, he wants to beef up charter schools and, with a "charter school incubator", create more of them.

Creating more charter schools won't help our public schools or make our students more ready to learn. It simply won't. It also won't help our students be more ready to enter the classroom, and that's what Melina Kennedy's plan would do. It focuses on readiness. This is what Kennedy heard from educators in her education forums on the campaign trail.

Ballard also wants to provide tax breaks to non-profits that create charter schools. The income tax money of non-profits that locate in Marion County would then be given back to the organizations to spend on their schools. Potentially this could not only be a First Amendment sticky point, but it also would further reduce the amount of money in the city's coffers. With an already stretched budget, it would seem to be a silly prospect to provide tax breaks to non-profit organizations that already don't pay taxes.

The Mayor also said he wishes to take over the four failing IPS schools once they emerge from state control. This plan was already smacked down by the Superintendent of Public Instruction, Tony Bennett, and it was roundly laughed out loudly by education experts.

Bottom line, for a Mayor that has been, as Star writer Matt Tully put it, "absent" on education for four years, it seems silly that he would want to suddenly be engaged now. I guess his hastily-created plan shows that he's feeling some heat on the issue from Melina Kennedy. He's reluctantly been dragged on to a battlefield he doesn't want to fight on. This is not only a tactical win from Kennedy, but it shows that this Mayor really has no vision on education.

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