Growing up in a neighborhood where all the school-aged children walked to the nearby elementary for school every day is one of my favorite memories.
Going to school was my sanctuary. School was the place I could go where I knew adults would protect me, comfort me and even discipline me. My teachers also found in me qualities I didn't know I had – my strengths and my hidden talents they knew I could develop. My teachers made a difference in my life and became my inspiration to do the same for others. Thus, I became a teacher and then a guidance counselor because I had a passion for education and wanted to make a difference in the lives of young people, just as my teachers had done for me.
Much has changed in recent years, and I am outraged and fearful about the future of public education.
After making the decision to stay home to raise my three children, I never lost my love for my career and stayed connected to my teacher friends by volunteering and remaining in touch with what was happening in education. The more I continued to be involved in public education, the more I became bothered by the idea of the privatization of public schools. My husband read newspaper articles about education and asked my opinion as an educator. There was one recurring theme I noticed, and that was the privatization of public education.
During this stay-at-home-mom time in my life, another mom and I saw that Northeast Indiana Friends of Public Education was screening two films at the Cinema Center, “Waiting for Superman” one Sunday and “The Inconvenient Truth Behind Waiting for Superman” the following Sunday. After attending the film series, we came away with an overwhelming feeling of helplessness as we became acutely aware that “education privateers” were profiting off our children.
Shortly thereafter, my friend and I attended the Omnibus Lecture Series featuring education activist Diane Ravitch. She reiterated what we had already learned: Public education is headed for privatization.
I wondered what could I do to make sure this didn't happen. How could I spread the word to others to let them know what could happen to our public schools? We decided to show “The Inconvenient Truth Behind Waiting for Superman” to our PTA. We invited two members of NEIFPE to help us facilitate the discussion afterward.
Finally, I knew that my new calling was to fight and advocate for public education.
For the past six years, I have written letters to our legislators to express my concern about their expansion of the voucher/Choice Scholarship programs. I asked our legislators to put a pause on giving tax dollars to private schools so they can evaluate the benefits of these programs as well as require both financial and instructional oversight.
With voucher expansion, our public schools lose funding. Teacher pay has remained stagnant. Children have bounced back and forth between parochial and public schools.
What happened to the stability of the quality public education system that I grew up with? What makes our legislators believe private schools can educate better when clearly public schools, educating 90 percent of our young people, are still the primary choice for families?
I am horrified that this same privatization scheme is happening at the federal level with Education Secretary Betsy DeVos and Rep. Jim Banks, R-3rd. House Resolution 5199, sponsored by Banks, once again takes federal dollars from public schools to educate children at parochial and private schools.
When will this madness stop? When will our legislators, both state and federal, stop depleting funding for our public schools, the one chance where children have an equal playing field to build a better future? It is time to bring back fully funded public schools so children will get that one chance, teachers will be respected and well paid, and schools will again be the hearts of our communities.
Please join me in writing your legislators and members of the State Board of Education. Let them know our public schools matter!
Anne Duff is a member of Northeast Indiana Friends of Public Education and the Fort Wayne Community Schools Board of Trustees.