HAMMOND — "Show me what democracy looks like. This is what democracy looks like."
"Hey, hey, ho, ho. Charter schools have got to go."
"Education is a right. This is why we're gonna fight."
These chants and others could be heard Sunday outside Hammond City Hall, as local educators and their supporters protested changes to public education funding and other new rules for teachers.
"We have gone back to taxation without representation," said Glenn Johnson, president of the Lake Ridge School Board. "I want to know, 'Where's my money?' ... Put it back into public education and educate our children."
The educators were upset about state funding changes that give more money to charter schools and vouchers to attend private schools, less for poverty-stricken schools and no raises for teachers; a new rule that teachers must get 15 externship hours to renew their licenses, to give them experience in the business world; and a state law that makes the superintendent an appointed rather than elected position.
"They are affecting our kids by defunding our schools," said Hara Halkias, a second-grade teacher and union representative for the Merrillville Community Teacher Association, as gray clouds moved in overhead. "They're giving to schools that don't have the same accountability and same results. They're pulling our resources and we can't keep up with costs, and giving to schools that don't have good results."
"This is our future," she said, pointing to 8-month-old Lilliana Cueller, whose mom, Kristen, also a second-grade teacher in Merrillville, was holding her.
Hammond School Board member Carlotta Blake-King called it a form of "class warfare" that urban schools in the northern part of Lake County don't get the funding they need.
"They won't give us a pay raise," she said. "We're losing our teachers to other states."
The School City of Hammond superintendent recently recommended shuttering three schools: Columbia and Lafayette elementaries and Miller School, which operates Hammond’s Head Start and special education pre-K programs. The Hammond School Board votes on that measure Tuesday.
Lake Ridge New Tech Schools is also closing an elementary school: Hosford Park New Tech Elementary School in Gary. And Johnson, the school board president, said the district is considering cutting bus transportation for students in neighborhoods that often don't have sidewalks. "If kids have to walk to school, they're walking in the streets," he said.
That leads to concerns about students' safety when it's snowing.
After standing in front of City Hall, the roughly 60 attendees went inside Hammond High School, where songs like "Eye of the Tiger," "Get Up, Stand Up" and "We're Not Gonna Take It" were the soundtrack.
"We have to continue this fight, because if we don't do something it's not going to get better. It's going to get worse," said Hammond School Board vice president Anna Mamala. "We have to stand up. We have to stand tall. And we have to stand strong. Because there is unity in numbers."
Morton High School teacher Anita Cox said she's witnessed her students be "disheartened" by the state of education today.
"I see myself exhausted, frustrated and mad as hell," she said.
State lawmakers such as State Rep. Carolyn Jackson, D-Hammond, and state Rep. Chris Chyung, D-Dyer, attended Sunday's rally. Other advocates encouraged people to register to vote, saying that nothing will change as long as Republicans hold a supermajority in the state Legislature.
Incoming School City of Hammond Superintendent Scott Miller said that teachers demand "fair and equitable compensation" as well as "respect."
"We have to tell our story, and we have it to tell it on social media," he said. "We have to educate people about what the situation is right now."
He said people in south Lake County "are very much OK, it seems, to let us languish" but should recognize that the county is "one region."
"We have to get them to start to understand our fates are intertwined," he said.
He also said educators remain frustrated over the emphasis on standardized testing.
"Teachers are more than a test score. Children are more than a test score," he said.
Miller added that those scores don't show "all the lives we've helped," many of them underprivileged kids.
"I don't just want a teacher appreciation week," said Kristin McMurtrey, of the Northwest Indiana Coalition for Public Education. "I want to live a in teacher appreciation community. I want to live in a teacher appreciation state. I want to live in a teacher appreciation country."
"Tell your stories. Do not be afraid," she told the educators, encouraging them to wear red on Wednesdays (the color is part of the Red for Ed movement).
"We are not alone," said Johnson, of the Lake Ridge school board. "This is happening across the country. Not only do we have to fix Indiana. We have to fix the rest of the county."