Pencils

In a sea of people dressed in red chanting “Red for Ed,” Indiana teachers and the state’s top educator sent a message to lawmakers to respect public education.

Jennifer McCormick, the state superintendent of public instruction, was greeted by cheers and a standing ovation from the educators at the Statehouse rally Tuesday.

“That’s usually not the reception I get in this house,” she joked.

McCormick addressed the hot-button issue of teacher pay, saying lawmakers are making a “false promise” to increase pay. She also talked about recent legislation to allow teachers to be shot with pellet guns during active shooter training and to allow guns in schools. She followed each issue with saying the phrase, “We can do better.”

“To come back and say, ‘You can continue to be active in your active shooter training but allow for teachers to be shot with pellet guns,’” McCormick said. “We have got to be better than that.”

The speakers at the rally spoke down more funding going toward charter school vouchers and virtual schools. When Joel Hand, lobbyist for the Indiana Coalition for Public Education spoke about vouchers that let parents use public dollars for private school tuition, his words were followed by “boos” from the crowd.

“We need to support funding for public schools and funding for all children,” Hand said.

Lawmakers from both parties were invited to attend the event, Hand said. Most of the Democrats from the House and Senate showed up to speak to the crowd; Sen. Ron Alting of Lafayette was the only Republican who spoke.

Alting talked about his public school education, and said public schools deserve more effort and funding from the legislature.

Tom Gayda, a teacher at North Central High School, said he doesn’t know why all parties can’t agree on the importance of public education.

“Republicans seem to be more excited about these, you know, charter schools and anything that’s not a traditional public school,” Gayda said. “And I think they’re losing sight of the vast majority of students in the state who go to public school.”

As the session is nearing the end, this rally may be one of the last efforts teachers have to send a message to lawmakers to increase K-12 funding. But McCormick said this rally wasn’t just about this year, but about the future of public education––specifically noting she is going to be the last elected superintendent of public instruction after 2020, as the legislature has voted to make the position appointed after her term concludes.

“This isn’t about here and now. This is about five years down the road. Are we still going to be the state that’s number 50 on teacher pay increases?” McCormick said. “There is a lot on the line now with 2020 … Are we going to start asking (candidates) the questions about ‘Where are you philosophically on K-12’ and ‘Are you willing to dedicate resources?’”

In other states including West Virginia, Kentucky and Arizona, teachers hosted walkouts in protest of education policies and funding. Gayda said with the extra funding for nonpublic schools, shooting teachers with pellets and also removing the state’s top election education position, Indiana teachers may walk out too.

“All these things they are doing is like an attack on what we do,” Gayda said. “It is getting real close to the point where you’re going to see Indiana teachers do some of the things that teachers in other states have done.”

Emily Ketterer is a reporter for TheStatehouseFile.com, a news website powered by Franklin College journalism students.

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