I’d like to express my gratitude to the community for all the support offered to teachers on Red for Ed action day. While marching with my colleagues in Indianapolis, I proudly showed off pictures of what was happening back in my community. All were duly impressed.
When I was in Indianapolis, I had the opportunity, along with Emily Race, Donna Wilson, Lexi Tinkel, and Dr. Scott Bowling, to meet with State Rep. Tim Brown. Knowing that we do not necessarily see eye-to-eye on many education matters, we were grateful to have an opportunity to speak with him, and we had hoped we might find some common ground on which we might stand together and discuss our ideas for the future of education in Indiana.
Unfortunately, right from the start, the tactic of Rep. Brown seemed to be one of wedge-driving rather than coalition-building. He said that if teachers are unhappy with their pay, then they should be stating their concerns en masse at every school board meeting because (I suppose this is the implication) we’d have enough money for the classroom if we weren’t so top-heavy with administration. He wouldn’t even acknowledge that, just perhaps, the amount coming from the state for the board to use was insufficient.
The only problem with that narrative is that it’s not true. Crawfordsville School Corporation meets the target that lawmakers have set for a school system that’s spending the “right” amount in the classroom. My Superintendent, Dr. Bowling, wanted to talk about specific numbers to see if we could all agree on a data set and see where we stood. Representative Brown wasn’t interested in talking specifics. Our situation doesn’t fit the narrative he and his colleagues are concocting.
Emily Race, a high school English teacher, led the charge on cost-of-living comparisons because Rep. Brown thought the nearly $10,000 difference in income between a teacher in Ohio and one in Indiana was “apples and oranges.” Despite the fact that Emily 1) is from rural Ohio, 2) actively looks at home prices, 3) compares tax assessments for property and income, and 4) still has family in rural Ohio with whom to compare notes, Dr. Brown told her that she didn’t know what she was talking about. What a talent it must be to have omniscience regarding cost-of-living for all counties in all Midwestern states! Alas, we’re back to those pesky facts not fitting the narrative.
It was clear near the end of our conversation that Dr. Brown thought classroom funding sufficient (Indiana ranks 47th), teacher pay competitive (ranked 51st in pay increase over the past 15 years and lowest average pay in the Midwest), school services robust (when I was a student at the middle school, we had two counsellors for about 500 students; now we have one for 564 …), and ILEARN a fine test (if nearly 100% of students are destined for college). If all this is true, why is there a teacher shortage?
If things are fine, as he contends, why is there a drop in education-school enrollment? Why do nearly 20% of educators leave the classroom within the first 5 years, subjecting students to constant churn? Why did my school have open positions for almost a whole year for lack of any applicants--something that is virtually unheard of for our school system? He looked at our group and said, “Because we have historically low unemployment. It’s just the market.”
I challenged his theory saying that we’ve had low unemployment before during the booming economy of the late 90s. Donna Wilson, a middle school counselor, sat on hiring committees during those years and confirmed that even in a strong economy with low unemployment that we’ve never had such a hiring crisis. Rep. Brown dismissed my counter by saying he didn’t think unemployment had ever been this low. (Actually, Indiana’s unemployment rate was as low or lower than its current level in ‘98, ‘99 and ‘00.) Once again, facts didn’t fit the narrative.
One of my mentors, a former teacher, once told me that when you’re having a contentious conversation that you should find out where you can stand together and always return to that ground. I’m not sure I ever found common ground. We thanked Dr. Brown for his time and for seeing us. He thanked us for our service to Indiana’s children. I asked if he’d be willing to take a picture with us — and he said no.
Friends, I was born in Crawfordsville, I attended school in Crawfordsville, and I now have had the privilege of teaching in Crawfordsville these past six years. I feel like I know this community pretty well. Is there a single person in the whole of District 41 who would object to seeing our representative meet with a group of educators? I think not. This is not politics as usual. This is not the way that our community works.
I deeply hope there’s a moderate Republican out there who thinks public education is something essential in a democratic society — something worth treasuring and funding fairly rather than lopping off chunks of it to satisfy special interests. There’s a seat up in 2020 at which I hope you’ll take a peek. 25 years is enough.
But despite all of that, I return to gratitude. Thank you for trusting us to educate your children. Thank you for marching and singing and chanting on the Statehouse lawn. Thank you to those who organized, spoke, and attended the local Red for Ed rally despite the dismal weather. Thank you for wearing red on Wednesdays to show that you support public education. Your support and resolve mean the world to me and to the teachers that I represent. It is an honor and a privilege to teach this community’s children. Onward!
Crawfordsville Education Association president