State Rep. Vernon Smith

Rep. Smith: We cannot build one more charter school in Gary

Contributed By: State Rep. Vernon Smith

A project like this can only take us backwards

After a long battle to pass the Gary Community School Corp. referendum this year, I was greatly disappointed to hear of Mayor Prince's plan to build yet another charter school in Gary, further dividing student allocated dollars and lessening our chance of reclaiming control of our traditional schools.

Because this new school is being built in partnership with Purdue University, why doesn’t the President of Purdue University consider constructing it in Lafayette? Doesn’t charity start at home and spread abroad? Build it there – not in this city, where we have made so much progress and still have so much left to accomplish. A project like this can only take us backwards.

It took the Gary community three attempts to pass a crucial referendum for our students, teachers and staff. We said ‘Yes’ to provide funds for extracurricular programs and career education. It took over a decade, but Gary teachers will see a salary raise — our teachers who, this year more than ever, deserve it. It will take us two more years, but Gary can gain control back from the state. This is hard and long work, but it's for our children. Further dividing our student population will nullify our efforts and wipe out our recent progress.

I am willing to do the work, to be patient and diligent. As a past advisory member of Indiana’s Distressed Unit Appeal Board, I see where we are and how far we need to go, but I also see the potential.

Gary does not need one more charter school. In 2019, Gary was leading the state in students lost to charter schools. While charter schools take away funding from our public schools, they are not transparent about where the money goes or what progress they make. In addition to financially harming the Gary Community School Corp., the school will potentially financially harm Steel City Academy and 21st Century Charter High School.

I intend to file an amendment declaring a charter school moratorium in Gary and will support State Senator Eddie Melton if he does the same. I have great respect for Mayor Prince and want him to be successful for the good of Gary, but this is just one particular idea that I simply cannot support. During the last few sessions, I have polled my constituents and they have indicated overwhelmingly that they are opposed to further expansion of charters in the district.

Public schools are built to serve children in all districts, no matter their family’s income level. We must put our resources toward these institutions that already exist in Gary and say 'No' to any more charter schools. All of our children — not just those who receive a voucher or are born into better economic standing — are the future.

Story Posted:01/01/2021

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