Speech given by Cathy Fuentes-Rohwer
Location: Rally for Public Education at the Indiana Statehouse
Our legislators are failing our children. They are tasked with the support for public education in Indiana and, instead, they are making it a commodity.
The laws and educational policies they’ve put in place have created a marketplace of schools, where it’s about “a parent’s right to choose” and not a social responsibility. This is not about your children or my children: it’s about ALL of our children. Our state constitution does not guarantee our kids a “school choice” or “a quality education IF you can get it.” It says:
“Knowledge and learning, … being essential to the preservation of a free government; it should be the duty of the General Assembly to encourage … and provide, by law, for a general and uniform system of Common Schools, wherein tuition shall be without charge, and equally open to all.”
Their duty is to provide equal educational opportunity—not a competition for it. Not high quality schools if you win the lottery. Their job is to support our public schools and fund them.
5 years ago I stood here and said, "We think it is wrong that our PTAs have to hold bake sales and put pretty baskets up for auction while politicians redirect millions of our tax dollars to private schools."
That was 2013 when the amount of money our state spent on vouchers totaled $37 million.
Last year it was $146 million.
How many cookies do we have to bake to make up for that?
What kind of auction would retrieve the money that is flushed down the toilet with every charter school that goes belly up? We have spent well over a billion dollars on charters since 2011 and one in five have closed. What would our public schools have done with that money? Instead, people are making money off of these ventures—profiting off of our children.
What happens when education policy is determined by businessmen and legislators and NOT educators? Pushing kids onto tracks for college and career readiness. My son at 13 and, in 7th grade, is now taking a test to find out what career he should be thinking about preparing his schedule for in high school—a year and a half away. He came home from school last week and said, “Mami: I don’t WANT to be an adoption counselor or a grief counselor, but that’s what the test said I should be.” I said, “Don’t worry about that test, sweetie. Just try your best in your classes. Those tests are for making someone rich. It’s not time to figure out your career, yet.”
So, instead of focusing on empathy and kindness for just being a part of HUMANITY, these policies are pushing my son to look at his traits and abilities in terms of what they can bring to BUSINESS and the workforce. He is a child: trying to figure out who he is, how to rein in emotions, how to communicate well, how to think outside the box—and our state legislators are trying to force him into one.
You can call the test I-STEP or I-LEARN or I-MAKE-MONEY-FOR-PEARSON, but as long as the stakes are attached to the scores, as long as you are basing the future of schools, teachers and, yes, our KIDS, on a culturally/racially-biased, limited, and reflecting-socioeconomic status, standardized test score, you aren’t creating pathways, you’re creating social inequality.
The promise of public education is equity—it’s supposed to be the great equalizer, not the great workforce provider. Its purpose is DEMOCRACY and our legislators are currently deciding if they are against this, too. #HB1315 the state takeover of schools bill.
Democracy is messy and government can be disappointingly imperfect. But the answer is not to give up our power or our right to vote. It most certainly is not for our government to decide who gets democratic participation & representation and who does not.
Do we punish schools struggling financially or support them? Do we take schools that have lost funding and opportunity, purposefully starve them further, and then grade them and take them over based on how financially stable they are? Our legislature is shirking their responsibility to care for the most vulnerable of our society while blaming schools, teachers and kids for not trying hard enough to succeed. Poverty is at the heart of our public school troubles, it’s a societal problem and it will take all of us as a community to work together to solve. It’s an economic problem that involves economic development solutions.
And, at the center of a solution to a community problem must be real power-- by including voices that have been marginalized and joining together all voices, to effect change.
We know what happens when the public is kept out of decision-making power—we’ve seen the news in Michigan. We know that when public accountability is removed and top down decisions occur, it’s as toxic to democracy as the water that children in Flint drank.
We must stand in solidarity with our fellow citizens of Gary and Muncie. We must demand the senate appropriations committee create a timeline for a return to local control. Our schools and school boards are democracy in action. Our fellow citizens, community members, who are accountable to us, not those who appoint them-- are what puts the “public” in public education. It’s not just about Gary or Muncie—your school community could be next.
Please join ICPE. Help us organize and inform our communities, defend public education, and help fulfill its promise for all of our children.