Public education supporters see red at statehouse rally

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INDIANAPOLIS, Ind. (Feb. 16, 2015)-- The Statehouse was packed with public education supporters Monday as parents, educators and advocates held a gathering that some dubbed Rally for Ritz. Many in attendance said they "wore red for Ritz" as they filled the north atrium of the Statehouse with chanting and signs, pledging their support for Indiana Superintendent of Public Instruction Glenda Ritz and public schools across the Hoosier state.

“Public education has been under attack for some time," said Rick Muir, president of the American Federation of Teachers Indiana. "Now a person who led the state in votes is under attack. We view that, quite frankly, as an attack on democracy.”

Muir's thoughts were echoed on many of the handmade signs bobbing up and down in the crowd, pointing to the 1.3 million votes cast for Ritz.

AFT Indiana was one of many organizations and groups at Monday's rally. Marilyn Shank, vice president of the Indiana Coalition for Public Education, said the gathering was a chance to reach legislators with a unified voice.

“We all are out there day after day promoting public education and good policy, both as is set by the State Board (of Education) or by the legislature, but it really feels good to get everybody together in one place get these issues spoken about so that people listen, said Shank.

There are proposals right now before the legislature that would remove the State Superintendent of Public Instruction as the head of the State Board of Education. That's a change Shank finds difficult to understand.

“The system we have now has been working for 100 years. Why would we change it just because some people don’t get along?” she questioned.

However, with a republican controlled House and Senate, many of the people at the rally speaking out against school vouchers and increased standardized testing face an uphill battle. Republicans continue to voice their support for families using vouchers to expand their educational choices and the use of testing to measure student progress.

“I hope it makes people of both parties think before they vote," insisted Shank. “We know that there are Republicans who are concerned about the repercussions from voters. They also have public schools in their districts. They need to care about the public schools in their districts.”

Shank said part of the theme Monday was listening. She hoped legislators would hear their chanting and consider the input of educators before casting their votes.

"If you are going to set education policy, you need to listen to educators," she said.

Muir said if legislators aren't willing to listen to public opinion about education, they should be voted out of office.

“Our message today is, if they don’t listen to the people, then they need to be replaced – from the Governor’s office to those in the Senate and those in the House who support what we believe to be damaging to the young people of Indiana," said Muir.

There are several education bills being considered this session, and Muir says the conversations about public education are at a critical point.

“This is the worst time in my lifetime, and I’ve spent 40 years in this profession. In education, I have never witnessed what’s taking place.”

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