As a public school teacher, proud member of the Indiana State Teachers Association (ISTA), as well as a mother of three school age children, I understand how important the public school system is. All children should receive quality education starting in preschool and continuing through to graduating high school. That kind of education is impossible without local community schools being well-funded and staffed.
Pre-K and Kindergarten Education Reform
Attending preschool is the single biggest predictor in early elementary success. It introduces children to all the basic skills they need to succeed later, such as letters, numbers, colors, and especially social skills. Preschool education is how we set up our children for success all the way through elementary school and even further. Currently, Indiana services low-income families in just 20 counties, reaching less than 20% of preschool age children. I believe that all children should get the opportunity for educational success, and research shows that preschools can assist in that. We need to expand our current system to all 92 counties in the state, as well as eliminate income eligibility levels to allow all parents to afford preschool education for their children.
Unfortunately for Indiana kids, even the kindergarten system lacks support and funding. Children in Indiana do not have to start school until they're seven. We are one of only a few states that do not have the starting age at five or six. This has sadly lead to poor success outcomes for the late starters . In recent years, school systems have even stopped kindergarten programs as a cost savings measure. This is unacceptable and a disservice to all of our children. Indiana school systems need to lower starting age requirements to five, with special waivers for extending that age to six if children are not ready.
One need only ask a current or recent student of the Indiana school system to hear about the amount of standardized tests they have to take. My own students are pulled out from instruction for at least four sets of standardized testing per year. I hear from my own children at least monthly on the different assessments they have to take. This constant cycle of testing only pulls students from valuable instructional time, increases stress in both students and teachers, and is not a clear indicator of knowledge or intelligence. We need to find a balance between testing and instructional time that puts emphasis on what is important for our students.
Public School Funding
Our public schools are tragically underfunded. Indiana is ranked near the bottom for funding per student in public school. With the advent of the charter school boom, we have been rated as number one for charter school legislation--which is bad for public schools. Currently, charter schools are not subject to meeting state standards when it comes to curriculum, assessments, or anti-discrimination policies that public schools must have. This is all despite our tax dollars funding them. This January, Governor Holcomb welcomed many charter school interest groups into the State House in the 2020 session and in doing so welcomed their ideas and pressure for reform that is more favorable towards more charter schools than it is to our public schools. When we give public funding to charter schools, we are directly taking it away from our public schools and children.
The only charter school available to students in District 32 is the Virtual Academy. It has been given an "F" rating. This means that your tax dollars are being routed out of the school districts that serve your community and it's children and into sub-par institutions. Institutions that are not even considered to be quality education by their own rating systems. Either we put an end to the voucher program that takes money out of our public school system, or we make the charter schools subject to the same standards as public schools.
Red for Ed
Indiana ranks 38th in teacher pay according to the National Education Association. Using personal income to furnish classrooms has become a reality for public educators in the state. Under-funding our schools has nothing but negative impacts for everyone involved. The Red for Ed movement wants to help fix these issues by empowering the teachers these issues impact to create change. Unfortunately for Hoosier educators, we have been ignored for multiple years now. In his State of the State address at the beginning of the 2020 session, Governor Holcomb set the tone for the entire year's session by stating then that teacher's pay could wait another year to be considered. Putting these changes off another year means that Indiana will lose more quality educators to our neighboring states that pay more than Indiana schools, as well as harming the quality of education that Indiana students receive from public schools.
Indiana educators need better pay to continue to do their jobs to the extent that the public needs. That's the bottom line.