The forum discussed the problems with the Indiana General Assembly's numerous bills regarding changing education, particularly House Bill 1002, which would establish charter schools as a viable alternative to public schools. Educators and students have protested the passing of the bill through the House and its committees, with the full bill passing on Feb. 8.
Aside from creating a charter school board controlled by the state, with members appointed by the governor and state superintendent, the bill also allows newly established charter schools to use under-utilized buildings in school corporations at the school corporations' expense, requires charter school credits to be accepted at other public or private schools, allows up to 50 percent of teachers to be unlicensed and allows the charter to go into debt without having to pay it back themselves, forcing their debt to be paid by the common school fund.
Dr. Mary Sugg Lovejoy, North Putnam superintendent, began the meeting with a brief introduction before turning the mic over to the main speakers of the night: Jana Brothers, moderator for the event and head of the North Putnam Teachers Association; Dr. Robert Dalton, former superintendent of the Kokomo School District and retired educator and Shane Grimes, former North Putnam High School teacher and current Greencastle resident, as well as an ISDA employee.
"If we want to have public education in Indiana we have to get in the game this year," Dalton said. "If you look at that bill, everything is troubling for public education."
Dalton went through the seven Indiana Coalition for Public Education maxims that define why money should not be diverted away from public schools, which includes public schools being open to al students regardless of income, public schools being the bedrock of democracy and being centers of the community. He also listed several facts pointing to the poor performances of the state's current charter schools. There are currently 62 charter schools in Indiana, and 21 of them are listed at the bottom 25 schools and school districts in the state. Dalton also pointed out that public school performance has steadily increased over time.
"Public schools need financial stability," Dalton said. "Public schools are the center of the community, and I know that's especially true here."
Grimes used to teach in the same auditorium 13 years ago, teaching at the school for 10 years total. Grimes said he was very passionate about the community and the school system, and his daughters still go to Putnam County schools. Grimes communicated his anger and frustration through brief snippets of humor, but he also showed his distrust towards the Republican assembly members now in office.
"The current Republicans are not the Republicans we elected to represent us," Grimes said.
Both speakers were very cynical regarding how the use of charter schools would help the public education system, especially since the current legislation going through the assembly would take money and students away from these schools. Other house bills would also strengthen HB 1002 if it passed, including one that would create a voucher system for those attending the charter schools. With public school funding decreasing over time and political opinion against the public education system for the moment, Grimes and Dalton feel that the public school system may be torn apart if the bill passes through the Senate.
"Give some of your lawmakers credit in their ability to systematically deteriorate us," Grimes said.
Both speakers held a question and answer session after their speeches, where they expounded on their facts further. Many residents were concerned about the path public education would be forced to take if the trend continues.
"My family's full of educators, my children will probably go here -- I wanted to know more about it," said Patrick McClamroch of Heritage Lake.
Grimes said that though Republicans will use the rhetoric of giving parents a choice in their education, he argues that the choice for parents was there before. What this new choice will really do, he claims, will wipe out poorer public school districts, give more power to charter schools and ultimately more power over education to the state government.
"This is simply a way to divide us by dollars," Grimes said. "This is the beginning."