Statehouse rally to support public schools

Organizers of this week’s Indiana Statehouse rally in support of public education are touting an “all star” list of speakers. And it’s true: Whoever put together the program did a good job.

The line-up includes parents, retired educators, a school superintendent, a school board member and the president of the Indiana PTA. Many are affiliated with the Indiana Coalition for Public Education, an organization of ordinary citizens who believe in public schools.

In a key gesture of bipartisanship, the legislators on the program represent both parties: Republican Sen. Vaneta Becker and Rep. Randy Truitt and Democratic Sen. Tim Skinner and Rep. Vernon Smith. Might Superintendent of Public Instruction Glenda Ritz join the fun? Her office, after all, is right next door.

And the timing for the rally, at 2:30 p.m. Tuesday in the South Atrium, could hardly be better. House Bill 1003, which expands Indiana’s private-school voucher program and is arguably the most serious threat to public education this session, goes before a Senate committee the next morning.

Unlike the “Ed Reform Rocks” rally staged last week in support of vouchers and charter schools, this event won’t feature 1,000 or more school-age children. As Wayne Township Superintendent Jeff Butts wrote last week on Twitter, “Love to send 16,000 in shirts holding signs but they’re in class.”

Class attendance aside, there’s something disturbing about adults dragging children to the Statehouse to serve as props for a partisan cause. Imagine the blowback from politicians and the state’s news media if public schools were to suspend classes and bus students to Indy for a rally in support of, say, more state funding for education.

But will the people with power pay any attention to this week’s rally? Gov. Mike Pence, House Speaker Brian Bosma and Senate Speaker Pro Tem David Long all spoke at the pro-voucher, pro-charter event. Their minds seem to be made up.

On the other hand, Ritz’s surprising election victory last year should remind us not to underestimate the influence of the grass roots. The key question is whether legislators – especially Republicans – will hear from constituents who support public schools.

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