The Journal Gazette
Thursday, October 13, 2016 10:00 pm

What lessons do we teach in devaluing our schools?

Eva G. Merkel

On any given day, children in Indiana’s public schools are getting an excellent education. Their teachers care deeply about them and work hard to prepare them to be good workers, problem-solvers, great communicators and good citizens. Why are we trying to stop that?

On any given day, those same teachers go to schools knowing the good work they do and feeling honored that they mold our future. They do this despite hearing more negative than positive about their profession. They do this despite facing the reality that their financial livelihoods are quietly being taken away from them. Unfortunately, more and more young people are not going into education, more and more teachers are leaving the profession, and more and more teachers are losing hope. Why aren’t we trying to stop that?

Back in 2009, we taxpayers rejoiced in lowered property taxes. We also thought that giving families vouchers to attend private or charter schools if they had not found satisfaction in their public schools was truly the socially just opportunity that Gov. Mitch Daniels intended it to be.

To put it simplistically, with that, public schools started receiving fewer basic grant-funding dollars. At the same time, rigorous evaluation systems were put in place, and these were tied to how teachers could hope to earn a little more each year by doing exemplary work.

The days of earning a little more each year just because you taught another year were over. We fixed public education in Indiana. We got efficient and we rewarded only those who were getting the job done.

While things were busy getting fixed, each year the funding that supports public school teacher pay has slowly decreased. Quietly, the requirement that a family must experience public school before getting a voucher disappeared. Now, many families who can afford a private education are getting vouchers as well. Most of those vouchers are being used in religiously affiliated schools. Indiana handed out $132 million in vouchers last year. One legislator stated that this is saving Indiana money because a voucher costs less than what it would take to educate a student in public school. In fact, this has caused a deficit of $54 million that would have come to public schools. Why are we letting this happen?

As funding dwindles, as well as opportunities for teachers to see any significant way to have their paychecks keep up with inflation, teachers are moving from one corporation to another to have any hope of a pay increase. After a few years, they will have to move again (if they don’t give up on the profession) to see the same. As funding continues to drop, we will see more and more school corporations trying to pass referendums to keep up. Schools will be forced to ask the public for money. Will our legislators mock our public schools again by telling them to be more efficient and consolidate with neighboring corporations? Will we, once again, turn our backs on our public schools?

Good public education comes at a cost, but it is an investment in our future. If we don’t want to kill public education, it is time to understand how it is being undermined. It is time we demand that our schools are funded well, that public dollars remain public, and that those who chose the noble profession of teaching our children are treated as the precious resources they are. We don’t need a study commission to tell us that we have beaten public education to the ground. Do we want our local public schools to die?

If we do not care, they will.

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