Senator John Waterman has been a friend of public education, voting against private school vouchers in the historic 2011 vote and again in the vote to expand vouchers in 2013.
He is being challenged in the May 6th Republican primary by Eric Bassler, who has been endorsed by two prominent pro-voucher groups.
Advocates for public education in District 39 composed of Daviess, Sullivan, Greene and Martin counties and portions of Clay, Knox and Owen counties should know that Senator Waterman stood up for public education in the most difficult votes of our generation and now needs help in the primary education.
Turnout is key to this primary election. Public education advocates in District 39 need to turn out to vote for Senator Waterman in this highly contested primary race on May 6th in order to retain a Senator who has courageously supported public education and now is being attacked for doing so.
The Biggest Educational Question of our Generation
Whether to give public money to private schools has been the biggest educational question of our generation. The question came to a vote in Indiana in House Bill 1003 in 2011, sponsored by Representative Behning with the strong support of Governor Daniels and State Superintendent Bennett.
I strongly opposed passage of the voucher program based on three broad concerns. Vouchers promised to 1) entangle state funding with religious education in private schools; 2) subsidize private schools and their partisan political activities which remain perfectly legal under voucher laws; and 3) shift millions in public money away from the education of the one million public school students, siphoning public dollars to private schools. This year in 2013-14, the amount shifted has risen to $81 million, $50 million due to students who transferred out of public schools with a voucher and $31 million due to students who have always been in private schools and are now funded by public dollars.
In 2011, when HB 1003 passed the House after a committee hearing that lasted nine hours over two days, I and others sought Senators who would listen to our belief that public schools would be damaged by the voucher program. Senator Waterman listened to our concerns.
We found nine Republican Senators who responded to our pleas to protect public education and to vote against the voucher bill. Senator Waterman was one of the nine. The vote was 28 to 22 in favor. If we had found four more votes, the voucher bill would not have passed.
Others had told us that they were against it, but under great pressure from the Governor, they ended up voting for the bill. Senator Waterman resisted the pressure and stood up for public education. He deserves great recognition among public school advocates for his strong stance.
The Reprise in 2013: A Major Voucher Expansion
Representative Behning sponsored a major voucher expansion bill in 2013, designed to allow several categories of students who had never been in public schools to get a private school voucher, including siblings and disabled students. After it passed the House, we again sought Senators who would resist the expansion which would further harm funding for the one million students in public schools. Senator Waterman responded again and voted no on voucher expansion.
The vote this time was 27-23. Ten Republican Senators, including Senator Waterman, found the courage to oppose the Governor on behalf of public education. Three Senators who had voted against vouchers in 2011 switched their vote and voted for vouchers in 2013. If these three had maintained their vote, the major voucher expansion would have been defeated. It was that close.
Senator Waterman did not waver. He stood up for public education on this crucial vote.
The Choice for Public Education is Clear
It would appear that Senator Waterman is being pressed in the primary in large part because of his support of public education. Eric Bassler has been endorsed by a prominent voucher group, Hoosiers for Economic Growth, with a letter from Fred Klipsch, a long-time voucher supporter who leads the Hoosiers for Economic Growth Political Action Committee.
Then just this week, the Indiana chapter of Americans for Prosperity, funded by the billionaire Koch brothers, denounced Senator Waterman’s votes on education and announced an ad campaign against him. Both groups oppose Senator Waterman because he stood up for public education both in 2011 and 2013.
Public education advocates in District 39 have a friend in Senator Waterman. It is clear that his opponent would be a vote for further expansion of private school vouchers. The choice is clear.
What Can You Do?
Clearly, voucher groups would like to replace Senator Waterman with someone who will support voucher expansion. Public education advocates in Senate District 39 who want to retain a Senator who supports public education should go to work for Senator Waterman for the May 6th primary this Tuesday.
Public school advocates who live in District 39 and wish to vote in the Republican primary should become familiar with Senator Waterman’s support of public education and share this information with friends and family. Many primary elections have low turnouts, so a small group of supporters can make a big difference.
Public school advocates who live and vote elsewhere but want to support Senator Waterman can do two things. First, talk with friends and relatives who live in District 39, composed of Daviess, Sullivan, Greene and Martin counties and portions of Clay, Knox and Owen counties to seek their support for Senator Waterman.
Second, go to his Facebook page to support his campaign with a donation: https://www.facebook.com/pages/Waterman-for-Senate/302176070937
Retaining a courageous vote for public education in the Senate is important to halt the march toward privatization that the voucher groups want to see in the schools of Indiana.
Thanks for working to support public education!
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Some readers have asked about my background in Indiana public schools. Thanks for asking! Here is a brief bio:
I am a lifelong Hoosier and began teaching in 1969. I served as a social studies teacher, curriculum developer, state research and evaluation consultant, state social studies consultant, district social studies supervisor, assistant principal, principal, educational association staff member, and adjunct university professor. I worked for Garrett-Keyser-Butler Schools, the Indiana University Social Studies Development Center, the Indiana Department of Education, the Indianapolis Public Schools, IUPUI, and the Indiana Urban Schools Association, from which I retired as Associate Director in 2009. I hold three degrees: B.A. in Ed., Ball State University, 1969; M.S. in Ed., Indiana University, 1972; and Ed.D., Indiana University, 1977, along with a Teacher’s Life License and a Superintendent’s License, 1998.