My Speech at the Statehouse to the Indiana Coalition for Public Education

Submitted by Phil on Tue, 02/18/2020 – 14:48

Good afternoon, it is a profound honor to speak to you today, thank you. I am Phil Downs. I am a social studies teacher currently on assignment as the superintendent of Southwest Allen County Schools, and I was asked to speak for five minutes today on the research I have done into Indiana’s budget and its Voucher program. 

I am sure you expect me to tell you that since the General Assembly took over the pay of Indiana’s educators in 2009, the Indiana General Fund has grown by 26% which is significantly faster than the inflation rate of 18.8%. But the K-12 Tuition Support Budget has only grown by 14.8%. 

I am sure you expect me to mention the Voucher program will take another $168 million from that budget leaving Indiana’s public schools, relative to inflation, over $400 million behind 2009-10 funding.

But that would be boring and can be found on my website, so instead, I am going to talk to you for the next four minutes and two seconds about theology, door locks, and the benefits of friction.

A central tenant of most religions—especially the Christian faith, and certainly my Catholic subset of that faith—is that we are all sinners and we should pray for the strength to avoid occasions of sin. We all need help. 

When I reflect on this, I remember my father teaching me that door locks are an example of how we, as a society, have tried to engineer this idea into our daily lives. Locks don’t stop thieves. Instead, they provide social friction to help keep honest people honest in a moment of moral crisis. A thief will always break in. 

Social structures such as locks, don’t just help honest people stay honest, they also help us catch criminals. Al Capone was one of the most prolific criminals in American history. After all the murders, robberies, extortions, and bribes, what brought him down was the humble accountant: He was convicted of tax fraud. 

Whether it is fingerprints on a doorknob or numbers on a financial ledger, Al Capone is not alone. From Bernie Madoff and Enron, to elected public officials, to religious leaders, to public school educators, the simple structures that provide social friction at times of moral crisis, are incredibly important. They help keep honest people honest, and provide evidence when criminals take advantage of our trust.

With that in mind, our Legislators and Governors have demanded the Public Schools be accountable, and they are right to do so. Public schools are held accountable for every penny that comes across our desks. We are held accountable for every penny budgeted, and we are held accountable for every penny spent. Every. Penny. This financial oversight is a gift to us and to our taxpayers.

Accountability is a gift that helps us all make the right decisions. Accountability is also why some school districts have been taken over by the state. And accountability is why we now know that virtual charter schools have ripped off the taxpayers of Indiana to the tune of at least $68 million. 

This year, Indiana is projected to take $168 million dollars from the already underfunded Tuition Support Budget and, through the Choice Scholarship Program, give it as vouchers, primarily to organizations one of whose central tenants is that we are all sinners and need help, and then deny those organizations the gift of any financial oversight whatsoever. 

If we are to have vouchers, at a minimum, the fiscally responsible and, I would argue, morally obligated position, must be for the General Assembly and the Governor to enact laws to provide Voucher-receiving organizations the gift of public financial oversight. 

Tell your legislators this gift of accountability must include public financial oversight of not just the voucher dollars, but those dollars then redirected from their existing monies for non-K12-education purposes. Every. Penny. They, and the taxpayers, are owed this gift. 

Thank you