GUEST COMMENTARY: Political influence on schools affect our children

2014-03-05T00:00:00Z GUEST COMMENTARY: Political influence on schools affect our childrenBy Cathy Fuentes-Rohwer nwitimes.com
March 05, 2014 12:00 am  • 

First the corporate education reformers came for our local control through property tax caps, and I didn't speak up because I wasn't paying attention. I didn't know that changing the funding from property tax to state sales/income tax would harm my schools. I was running carpool.

Next they gutted the funding through "school choice," and I didn't speak up because I thought, "Sure. This is a free country. Everyone should be able to find the school that best suits their children." I didn't know the vouchers would take tens of millions of dollars away from my kids' schools and make it impossible to fully fund the rich educational programs and extracurricular activities for all children.

Then they took over and privatized some schools, and I didn't speak up because I thought, "That's an inner-city problem. Why should I worry about that?" I didn't know that once these for-profit charter companies and special interest charter sponsors smelled money and a market demand, they would come to my town. I didn't know that when they wooed the families from my public schools, they would take with them the money for my kids' art teachers and librarians, the PTO volunteers, and divide us as a community.

Then they went after the curriculum, and I didn't speak up because I thought, "Sure, we should have high, consistent standards. Kids should be 'ready' for college and career." I didn't know this was a money-making scheme unlike all others and that the testing involved would destroy teacher autonomy and the joy in learning. I didn't know laws like a grading system of schools based on one test score or laws tying test scores to teacher salaries and security in the name of "accountability" were designed to destroy public schools. I didn't know the maligning of schools through low letter grades based on a curve would open the market to charters and privates and further hemorrhaging of public school funding. I didn't know kids would lose art, music, gym and library. I just didn't know.

And they came for the teachers, and I didn't speak up because I wasn't a teacher. I didn't know the destruction of teacher unions, collective bargaining and morale would effectively silence teachers and keep them from advocating for my kids. I didn't know the culture of fear would make teachers unable to say: "Hey! This initiative is absolutely developmentally inappropriate for these kids!"

Then they came for my children and my school, and I found my voice.

The personal is political. It has been difficult for parents and the general public to see how the decisions made in the statehouse directly affect our children’s lives.

Bills with no foundation in educational research and written by for-profit corporations have chipped away at the cornerstone of our democracy, public education, with a death by a thousand cuts.

Schools are not factories to output workers for the economy. They are places where children learn and are nurtured. Please join us and speak up.

Cathy Fuentes-Rohwer, of Bloomington, is chairperson of the ICPE (Indiana Coalition for Public Education) of Monroe County and South Central Indiana, a grassroots organization advocating for public education. The opinions are the writer's.

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