Batesville Herald Tribune, Batesville, Indiana

January 31, 2011

Education funding debated

Maureen Hayden
The Herald-Tribune

-- — Spend much time at the Indiana Statehouse and you'll soon observe that cynicism permeates the place and sarcasm and suspicion seem to be the default language and attitude. Maybe that's because it's easy for bad politics to get in the way of good policy. Whatever the cause, it can have a strange effect. Despite the high (and sometimes low) oratory that fills the House and Senate chambers, there are moments when it feels like no one is listening. That changed for a short time last week when a young mother named Anat Adi-Atias nervously stood in front of the House Education Committee and issued a plea for help. She captured the committee's attention with her story: At 7 months old, Adi-Atias' daughter was diagnosed with cancer in both eyes. The intense treatment, including chemotherapy, left her daughter with long-lasting health problems, including a multitude of learning challenges. As Adi-Atias told the committee, it was her Jewish faith and an outpouring of support from her faith community that gave her – and still gives her – the strength and courage to help her child face every day with hope. And that's why, she went on to say, that she enrolled her daughter in the Hasten Hebrew Academy, a faith-based school in Indianapolis. Her request to the committee: She wanted them to approve House Bill 1341, legislation that would require a public school corporation to spend a proportionate share of its state special education grant on providing services to children with disabilities enrolled in private and parochial schools. The bill, authored by Rep. Bob Behning, a Republican from Indianapolis, raises a multitude of issues. Public schools already provide some services to children with special needs enrolled in private and parochial schools, but how much they provide and whether they should have to provide more are subjects of debate, big and small. Among them is the impact on services provided to children with special needs enrolled in public schools. The special education pot of money is only so big. So if more money goes to help children with special needs in non-public schools, that's less money for a school corporation to spend on children with special needs enrolled in its public schools. Other mothers with heart-rending stories testified in front of the committee that day and each of them talked about how faith was the framework for their existence. They pay taxes, they argued, so shouldn't a fair share of tax dollars be spent on their children? Stories that tug at our emotions shouldn't be the basis on which public policy is made. But their testimony should have some place in the conversation. How much weight it will have remains to be seen. The committee voted to send the bill on to the full House, for the next step in the legislative process. To follow the fate of House Bill 1341, persons may go to the Indiana General Assembly's Web site, www.in.gov/legislative. Under Session Information, click on Bills and Resolutions. Bills can be found by subject heading, bill number or bill author.