Lafayette School Corporation Superintendent Ed Eiler is retiring at the end of the school year, but he isn’t departing without a fight.
Eiler has been outspoken against Indiana’s school voucher program and is vowing to push back against it wholeheartedly over the next several months.
"I will say there are certain advantages to retirement and one of them is you are free to speak openly and honestly about the issues that you care deeply about," he said.
Few people may care more deeply about the state’s voucher system than Eiler.
LSC’s superintendent of 16 years is one of the plaintiffs in a lawsuit challenging the constitutionality of the program.
He also has twice given a roughly hour-and-a-half long presentation to members of the community and state and education leaders on the negative impacts the system will have on public schools.
One of the presentations came Wednesday during a joint meeting of the Lafayette, Tippecanoe, and West Lafayette Community School Corporations.
Elier says Hoosiers need to be better informed about the drawbacks now and in the future.
"We need to do some things differently and we need to make some changes. Nothing is more important than the education of our children," he said.
"We want to make sure that we protect the educational opportunities for all children. A vigilant electorate is critical to protecting, what I think is, one of the foundational pieces of our country which is the American Public Education System.”
The Lafayette School Corporation is already feeling the effects of vouchers which were implemented last year. Eiler says the district lost more than 20-students to schools of choice.
The number is similar in Tippecanoe School Corporation. TSC’s Superintendent Scott Hanback was one of a roomful on hand to listen to Eiler’s presentation Wednesday and says the information is alarming.
“What I was able to take away tonight is just a better understanding of where and what drives educational reform," said Hanback. "I think what Dr. Eiler was able to point out is that there is a lot of money behind what's driving a lot of these decisions and he was able to articulate that tonight. It really opened my eyes to see what is actually behind many of these reforms that are coming down, that many times as an education practitioner, we scratch our heads at.”
During his presentation, Eiler outlined how some investors of charter schools do so for the tax breaks, while simultaneously making a profit. He also says the rich who support these efforts influence policy and the direction of education.
West Lafayette Community School Corporation Superintendent Rocky Killion says this ultimately alienates middle-class and poor students.
“It's going to, in my opinion, really have a negative impact on public schools in the coming years," he said. "Especially that of educating all children to ensure that we have a populated, democratic, citizenry that is well educated and can assist in what we need to have happen in America.”
However, supporters of vouchers say it does just the opposite. They believe the program gives students better access to education and new opportunities.
There are currently about four-thousand children enrolled in the state voucher program.
State Representative Sheila Klinker also was on hand to listen to Eiler’s presentation. She doesn’t think vouchers are going anywhere, but insist there is legislation being pushed on both sides of the aisle to protect public schools.
“We have amendments to address just what he was talking about; transparency for voucher money, where it goes, and charters, tax credits, and the background of tax credits and to whom they are being given and why," the Democrat said. "And also, just an overall feeling of not talking away dollars from public school folks with the voucher funding.”
Last week, a Marion County judge favored against Eiler and the other plaintiffs in the lawsuit challenging the system.
Justice Michael Keele ruled it doesn’t violate the state constitution. He said since the scholarship vouchers are given to parents who choose what schools to use, the state isn’t directly funding parochial schools.
Eiler says the decision won’t stop the fight.
“I think the next step in the lawsuit regarding the vouchers is an appeal," he said. "The question is whether or not the appeal can be expedited so it goes directly to the Supreme Court or whether it will have to go through a court of appeal. It is our hope that it will be expedited and go directly to the Indiana Supreme Court.”
Eiler believes taking the case to the state’s highest court is the best option for reversing the decision because there is a panel of judges who may see the case from a different perspective than a single judge.
But, he says until then, his mission is to continue to make the public aware about how the program will be detrimental to public schools and students throughout the state.
"As I say in my talk, you have to believe that Winston Churchill was right and that is that you can always trust Americans to do the right thing after they have exhausted every other possibility," said Eiler.
"That is part of the American democratic system. It will work, it will just take time for people to realize what is happening and take the necessary to correct the harm that was made during a period in time when certain, I think, bad public policies were put into place.”