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The Journal Gazette

  • Hesting

Tuesday, May 07, 2019 1:00 am

Standing up for public schools

Chad M. Hesting

Chad M. Hesting is a Fort Wayne teacher.

I've been a teacher in Fort Wayne Community Schools for nearly 20 years. Part and parcel of this experience has been watching the legislature remake and remodel public education into something very far from the “general and uniform system of Common Schools” required by the Indiana Constitution.

Lawmakers' insistence on bleeding school funds into vouchers, charter schools, and online academies flouts the Constitution's expectations.

Last year, our legislators and governor let it be known that they were interested in raising teacher pay. No doubt they were interested in heading off the teachers' revolts we'd witnessed in West Virginia and Oklahoma.

But people truly interested in education know that teacher pay isn't the root issue; it's just the showiest flower. Proper, full funding for public schools is the root issue.

With a $2 billion surplus in the bank, Hoosier educators and administrators had reason for hope. Eight years after the launch of the voucher program, perhaps the Indiana legislature had seen fit to balance the losses inflicted on the public school system under its watch. Section 8 of the Indiana Constitution provides for a “general and uniform system of Common Schools.” Maybe the legislature would return to doing its duty.

Once again, lawmakers have let their state down. With a conveniently timed report of “declining” economic fortunes, the legislature decided on a very modest increase of 2.5% over the next two years.

To bring Indiana teacher pay up to the median of its surrounding states, the legislature would have needed to raise its education spending by 9%. An increase like that would have helped stanch the bleeding as talented educators leave the profession or head toward better-paying states.

But teacher pay isn't the only way our representatives sell our schools short.

One month earlier, after the chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee had proclaimed that Indiana had “a very, very strong economy” (what a difference a month makes!), the budget mandates cuts statewide in complexity funding. This is a direct hit to districts with persistent poverty, such as FWCS, coming after years of shrinking complexity spending. Mysteriously, well-to-do suburban districts such as Carmel Clay and Noblesville got significant boosts from the same fund.

If there's good news to any of this, it's that teachers are rising to protest. They know how feeding private schools and shady charter ventures cause our state's schools to starve. We're agitated.

On the socials, teachers argue about how to let Indy feel our anger. We held walk-ins across our district this month, backed up by paraprofessionals and sympathetic parents. The goal was clear: Let our legislators know our schools need to be fully funded. Teachers working 10- to 12-hour days are doing extra. We're going above and beyond to get the message into the Statehouse, and we're going to keep pushing.

Still, there's no sign they heard.

So here's my request: We need help to get the message through. If your work is at all affected by our public schools, please do something extra. School board members, do something more this week. Contractors doing work for schools, please call your representatives. If you are an instructor at one of our local colleges, let someone in Indianapolis know. If you employ teenagers in your business, give something back by writing a letter. If you've enjoyed a music program or play or a great basketball game at your local school lately, email or tweet your state senator.

Every year that passes without full funding means we shortchange our public schools. We shortchange ourselves.