Educational Funding and Right To Work Big Concerns in Fort Wayne

By Maureen Mespell
By Rachel Martin

November 16, 2011 Updated Nov 17, 2011 at 12:46 AM EDT

FORT WAYNE, Ind. (Indiana’s NewsCenter) – Republican lawmakers, Senate President Pro Tem, David Long of Fort Wayne, and State Representative Kathy Heuer of Columbia City, came to Fort Wayne for a town hall-style meeting at Homestead High School Wednesday night to discuss the upcoming legislative session of the Indiana General Assembly. The big topics of discussion educational funding and the potential enactment of the Right To Work (RTW) law in Indiana.

Southwest Allen County School (SACS) teachers and parents expressed the need for legislation that would create equal school funding. Jena Huffman is a first grade teacher for SACS. She said SACS receives the third-lowest funding in the state, and many teachers and arts programs were had to be cut. She said art, music and physical education classes in the elementary schools used to be 40 minutes twice a week. Now, those classes are down to 30 minutes. One program that was eliminated completely was the elementary science specialist.

“That made us be a school system that was doing something a cut above what a lot of school systems did and we don’t have that anymore,” Huffman said. “And the arts, which is in some ways engages some children in learning, that has been cut.”

SACS used to be considered one of the wealthier schools districts in the state due to the neighborhood. But schools are no longer funded by property taxes but through sales taxes from the state instead. But with the economy bringing the sale tax down, the funding is no longer there. Huffman said that schools state-wide should have equal funding.

“I realize schools with families on free and reduced lunch need more money, but every program requires dollars,” Huffman said. “And our school district requires the dollars to keep our programs funded as much as any other district in the state. And right now, the funding is not equitable.”

Senator David Long said laws to even out school funding are already in place.

“Because of some of the things happening in other states, we had to do some limiting action to equalize funding for all of our schools, better than we had been doing in the past,” Senator Long said. “That equalization is coming to fruition. I think some of the historical inequities will be taken care of over the next five to seven years, but it’s frustrating to be in what’s traditionally been a very wealthy school district and being squeezed by the funding formula the way they are.”

However, SACS has passed a referendum twice in the past 10 years to raise area taxes to compensate for the district receiving less state funding.

Senator Long and Rep. Heuer said Indiana could potentially enact the RTW law. Senator Long said major companies, like Volkswagon, refuse to settle in Indiana because it is not an RTW state. However, Cliff Kerce of the Carpenters Industrial Council doesn’t believe that reasoning.

“It’s the thought that they might not come to Indiana because of that,” Kerce said. “They have no hard cases, they have nobody stepping up and saying that’s why.”

Kerce argues the national Chamber of Commerce created RTW so big corporations could combine jobs and spend less money. It would enable workers to do more for less in potentially dangerous environments.

“You’ve got one person running between two machines or two pieces of equipment trying to operate them, that’s when accidents happen and people get hurt,” Kerce said. “And so it comes of our backs. We’re doing twice the work and they get to keep three times as much.”

Kerce said unions are in place to protect workers, but he thinks it’s only a matter of time before the trades are “carved out” just like teacher unions were eliminated several years ago.

“If you do away with unions right now, all the way across the board, what you’re going to have is what they have down South where companies pay their people what they want. And that’s going to bring everybody’s wages and everybody’s standard of living down,” Kerce said. “[The unions] aren’t all about more money or benefits. If the company does good, we do good. So we want the company to succeed, we want them to make a lot of money. We just want a little piece of it.”

Senator Long said no RTW legislation has been passed in Indiana, yet, but there are two proposed bill that will be discussed in the upcoming Legislative session. Long said that with nine percent unemployment, they’re going to look into every possible opportunity to create jobs.

“It caused a lot of controversy last year. There are strong opinions on both sides, but the issues is jobs and job creation in Indiana and there are a lot of people that say this is one of the best things we could do to create more and better jobs,” Long said. “Some people dispute that, but…we’re going to have a large caucus discussion about it and decide what we want to do with it, but most likely the topic will be brought up and considered in the legislature this year.”

The Indiana General Assembly’s 2012 legislative session is scheduled to begin the first week of January. It will be a short session of two and half months this year.

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