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Public education allies rally against Republican legislation targeting Indiana schools

Former Republican state superintendent of public instruction Jennifer McCormick criticized several Republican-authored education bills Monday, Feb. 20, 2023 during a rally held by the Indiana Coalition for Public Education. McCormick may run for governor as a Democrat in 2024.
Lee V. Gaines / WFYI
Former Republican state superintendent of public instruction Jennifer McCormick criticized several Republican-authored education bills Monday, Feb. 20, 2023 during a rally held by the Indiana Coalition for Public Education. McCormick may run for governor as a Democrat in 2024.

Educators, elected officials and advocates criticized several Republican-authored education bills during a rally at the Statehouse Monday.

It featured a mock bake sale intended to illustrate how much funding was being drained from public schools through legislation aimed at expanding school choice. The Indiana Coalition for Public Education hosted the event.

Former state superintendent of public instruction Jennifer McCormick described Monday as “an incredibly tough day here at the Statehouse.” McCormick, who won the state office in 2016 as a Republican, said she couldrun for governor as a Democrat in 2024.

McCormick received a standing ovation for a speech that covered theexpansion of the state’s voucher program — which would provide public funding to cover the cost of private schools to families making as much as $220,000 — and the state's education scholarship accounts.

House Republicans want to expand the voucher program by also removing requirements for eligibility, including one that made most voucher students first spend time in a public school.

“A third of that [state] budget is going to be earmarked for 9 percent of our kids for vouchers. And that's for vouchers of families who make a great deal more money than most families in Indiana. So that is going to be problematic,” McCormick said in an interview following her speech. “In addition to the budget bill, which we're staring at, you know, losing a great deal of money, whether it's through the sale of buildings, or through our property taxes, or whether it's through just the actual budget, there's just a lot of bills that don't make a lot of sense about curriculum instruction.”

One of the bill’s McCormick took aim at is Senate Bill 12, which would strip teachers and school librarians of alegal defense against criminal prosecution for distributing harmful material to minors.

“Anytime you put restrictions on teachers that put them at risk of some type of almost criminal behavior is alarming. The whole bill is not unnecessary,” McCormick said

McCormick also leveled criticism at lawmakers for advancing a bill that wouldlimit discussion of sexualityin Kindergarten through third grade classrooms. The controversial legislation drew hundreds of opponents of the legislation to the Statehouse on Monday.House Bill 1608 was approved by the House Education committee.

“It's going to cause a lot of unknowns in the classroom. Our goal is always to take care of and to help kids, but also to assist with families. And that bill would put things at odds for many of us,” she said.

Evansville music teacher Kerry Showers attended the rally. Like McCormick, he’s also concerned about how the bill will affect his ability to do his job.

When I’m in the classroom, my job is to be teaching the kids, not to be worrying about what I have to say or what I can’t say,” Showers said.

Showers says he also opposes legislation that woulderode teachers’ collective bargaining rights. At issue is language that would allow school administrators to choose whether to discuss working conditions with union representatives or a group of employees.

“Talking about class sizes, talking about things like the environment in the room, the temperature, the curriculum, if we can't have those discussions with our districts and our administrators, how can the students achieve success? Right? It's a failed system,” Showers said.

The deadline for each chamber to approve its bills is next week.

Contact WFYI education reporter Lee V. Gaines at lgaines@wfyi.org. Follow on Twitter: @LeeVGaines.

Copyright 2023 WFYI Public Media. To see more, visit WFYI Public Media.

Lee V. Gaines