GARY | The Gary Teachers Union joined a nationwide effort to support and promote public education, and the effort kicked off Monday with a panel of educators, politicians and local leaders focusing on ways to improve public education.
The forum coincided with the "Day of Action" supported by Randi Weingarten and the American Federation of Teachers. Weingarten was in Gary in August during the back-to-school convocation encouraging teachers to "Reclaim the Promise" of public education."
In welcoming teachers, administrators and school board members to the forum, Gary teachers union president Joe Zimmerman said reclaiming the promise is about fighting for neighborhood public schools that are safe, welcoming places for teaching and learning.
Sen. Earline Rogers, D-Gary, emphasized the need for early education and even more importantly mandating kindergarten in Indiana.
"We know how important early childhood education is but Indiana is one of the states that does not put any state dollars toward preschool education," she said.
"We have some real problems in the legislature," Rogers said. She touched on the animosity between the Indiana State Board of Education and the governor's office toward the elected Indiana State Superintendent of Public Instruction Glenda Ritz.
"They are trying to usurp the authority of the elected state superintendent," Rogers said. "There is a different climate in Indianapolis. We have just been playing defense to keep them from passing legislation to further erode public education."
Gary Rep. Vernon Smith, a member of the panel, said people are out to take dollars away from public education with privatized education. He said teachers are forced to teach to the test, doing more schooling than educating.
Smith emphasized the need for early education and talked about the differences in education in the U.S. compared to countries like Finland and China. He also said he is concerned about the A-F school grading system and the fact that it unfairly labels schools.
"People do what we allow them to do so we have to fight," Smith said. "Tell the story. Fight the lies with the truth. We have to reclaim public education, it's on its way out."
Gary Police Commander Kerry Rice focused on the importance of keeping students in school and making parents accountable for students who are truant. The Rev. Dwight Gardner, president of the Northwest Indiana Federation of Interfaith Organizations, said parental involvement is key to helping children to be successful in school.