Candidates urge replacing the reformers

Indiana has 150 members in its legislature. Currently, 110 of those are Republicans. And it’s been Republicans who have led the education reform charge over the past decade.

Reforms that former Indiana State School Supt. Jennifer McCormick – herself a Republican until recently – says are ruining public education.

“We should all be alarmed,” the New Castle graduate said during last Thursday’s Town Hall meeting at the W.G. Smith Building. “Our teachers are leaving in droves. In droves. One-third of our teachers leave in their first five years. Then you do question why in the world are people who know better continuing to vote against their own quality of life and their own pay and their own good. Why are they doing that?”

Yet, the GOP stranglehold persists. The Indiana Senate Republicans hold a 39-11 majority. In the House, the GOP margin is 71-29. That’s 73 percent of the general assembly in Republican control.

So education issues dominated a good portion of Thursday’s 2022 Town Hall Series, an effort by the Indiana Democratic Party to hear from voters about the top issues facing Hoosier families ahead of the 2022 state and federal elections.

McCormick said the GOP push for charter and private schools has taken away money from public education.

Nan Polk, a Democrat seeking the open District 54 seat in the House of Representatives, fears “public education is truly in jeopardy.”

Cinde Wirth, a Democrat challenging U.S. Rep. Greg Pence, said she believes a lot of veteran educators “do not recognize the reality” of hardships now faced by younger teachers.

Ron Itnyre, a Democrat challenging Republican State Sen. Jeff Raatz, said the current legislature continues trying to make it more difficult for teachers to their jobs.

James Sceniak, a Libertarian challenging U.S. Sen. Todd Young, says GOP education reforms have “taken the humanity out of teaching.”

Polk, who is opposing Republican Corey Criswell in hopes of succeeding veteran Tom Saunders, said “craziness and doubletalk” are clouding education in Indiana.

For example, critical race theory

“I think we need to focus on telling the truth and trying to get the truth out there,” she said. “For example, critical race theory. There really is no such thing taught in Indiana schools. So that’s just a bogeyman. It’s something that doesn’t exist. Parents have always had the ability to provide input on curriculum … it’s not like we’re trying to do something behind anybody’s back. We try to be as transparent as possible. Frankly, most parents are apathetic.”

Wirth said she became a teacher full-time in 2011 and found the education climate on decline.

“I need you to reach out to the people you know,” she said to the approximately 40 people in attendance. “Have conversations, make people aware of how these reforms are hurting our public schools and maybe some voting habits might change.”

Itnyre said he was against Indiana House Bill 1134 proposed earlier this year that would have given more power over curriculum and classroom activities to parents.

“This would only have made it more difficult for teachers to do their jobs,” he said. “We not only need to increase teacher pay. We need to increase respect for the teaching profession.”

Sceniak agreed with Itnyre.

“There are a lot of bills that are trying to over-regulate education,” he said. “At the federal level, my main goal is to make sure that regulations for teachers don’t happen on a national level, because in Washington, D.C., they can’t know the issues faced at your local schools.

“My mom’s a teacher,” Sceniak added. “One of her favorite quotes is ‘Education is not the filling of a bucket, but the lighting of a fire.”

~ By Darrel Radford | Reporter | Published May 23, 2022 in The Courier-Times