Last November, tens of thousands of us stood outside this statehouse with our signs and our songs, chanting “Red for Ed!” We stood alongside teachers from all across the state—but also alongside parents, community members, grandparents and students, in a show of support. The news outlets and bloggers began highlighting the abysmal pay in Indiana and the real shortage of people going into teacher education programs.

But it was not just about teacher pay or even a shortage. Those are symptoms of an overall sickness in our state: the concerted and well-funded attack on public schools. You cannot raise teacher salaries and sustain that pay if you are spreading an increasing amount of money across an increasing number of schools through charter and vouchers.

We stand here today to support our public schools. But we need to redefine PUBLIC. Public means for all of us. Taking public tax money does not make you a public school. There is no such thing as a KIPP public school, despite the brand. Taking public school funding and sticking it into private hands, outsourcing the running of a school, undermining local control and disrupting a community is NOT innovation. That is called PRIVATIZATION. True public schools are accountable through a school board which is democratically elected and representative of our community. Those board members are then accountable to their communities by the transparency of decisions they make in public and the legally required reporting of budgets and audits open to the public. That is accountability.

What happens when you spread our tax dollars thinly and allow unlimited, unregulated growth of these schools that are run like businesses? You watch $85 million dollars flushed down the toilet with two virtual schools… whose leaders received money for students that never even logged on or enrolled… charter school leaders who paid themselves and their friends–as well as their related businesses or companies—to “educate” students. Students who were supposed to be learning something online—in our state, by the way, they call that “personalized learning.”

Do you know what personalized learning really is? A teacher who knows her students as individuals, connects with them and gears instruction toward their individual abilities, letting them follow their passion. This is what teachers do. The success of a great teacher is found in the lifelong learner who is kind and thinks outside the box, not how he/she/they fill in bubbles on a test.

We rallied here today to say, Sure. Thank you for passing a law to hold our schools and our teachers harmless for two years. But let’s talk about the harm that decades of laws, disrespecting teachers and students, dismantling and destabilizing our public school system, has caused. Let’s talk harm.

  • Closing schools hurts children and disrupts their learning. That is harm.
  • Testing kids to the point of tears and anxiety is harm.
  • Stigmatizing our schools with scarlet letter grades based on these test scores–disproportionately hurting our kids struggling with poverty, is harm.
  • Destabilizing and dismantling public education by siphoning public money to privately run schools that can openly discriminate or play by different rules is harm.
  • Disrespecting the teacher profession by micromanaging the classroom and silencing their voices in education policy is harm.
  • Turning our children’s schools into factories where the output is workers, channeled into pathways, for the good of corporate interest is harm.

In order to undo this harm, we need to remember the purpose of public schools is for our democracy. Demand our children get the whole curriculum and follow their own pathways to success. Demand our schools be kept democratic and let’s vote for public education advocates up and down the ballot. Public dollars belong in public schools. Educators must have a voice in policymaking. Accountability is ensuring that our state provides every single child with a quality, well-resourced public school, not merely the illusion of a choice. Accountability in a democracy is FOUND. IN. THE. VOTING. BOOTH.

But first we must organize and inform. When the parents whose children are crying because their small, defunded rural schools is closing realize that their fates are tied to the parents whose children are crying because their charter or public schools is closing down in the city, then we will be on our way toward creating a coalition.

Join us at ICPE…

Wear red for PUBLIC Ed.

And… remember in November.

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