By JULIE CROTHERS firstname.lastname@example.org
GOSHEN — As tensions rose surrounding the topic of Indiana’s embattled education system, state Rep. Wes Culver on Saturday took a shot at the Indiana State Teachers Association.
“The world would be a better place without the ISTA,” Culver said, eliciting gasps and negative reactions from the crowd of nearly 100 — mostly educators — gathered for the bi-weekly Third House meeting at the Goshen Chamber of Commerce.
During the meeting, Culver, R-District 49, and Sen. Carlin Yoder, R-District 12, outlined issues of “misconception” and “misinformation” they said were to blame for fueling part of an ongoing and well-documented feud between Indiana Superintendent of Public Instruction Glenda Ritz, a Democrat, Republican Gov. Mike Pence and the State Board of Education. Both the Republican-dominated House and Senate have passed bills that would strip Ritz of her automatic chairmanship of the Board of Education.
“There’s a lot of misinformation that gets put out there by different groups,” Yoder said. “…Sometimes blatantly twisting the truth to enhance or to move forward an agenda and it disgusts me. What it does is it muddies the water and it makes the waters toxic and you suddenly have a ‘we’ versus ‘them’ attitude and you end up where we’re at.”
While Yoder alluded to the misconception, Culver said the Indiana State Teachers Association was to blame.
“ISTA breaks up communities,” he said. “They’re the ones that have you and I against each other when we’re after the same thing.”
Culver added that part of the issue seems to be taking care of itself as ISTA’s membership has declined 4 percent each year for several years.
According to the organization’s website, ISTA represents more than 45,000 public school teachers and education support professionals, staff in state higher education institutions, retired educators, and college students preparing to become teachers.
“We’re all on the same boat,” Culver said, “but they tend to talk about these bills that aren’t going to be heard or they stretch the truth or they say we hate teachers or that politicians hate teachers.”
Goshen High School teacher Marilyn Graber responded to Culver’s comments.
“Wes, to say that about ISTA, which gives me a voice as an educator, is wrong,” Graber said. “It’s the only way that I have a voice in my profession. To say that it’s not important or that it harms the whole state is being so disingenuous. That is so hurtful as a teacher to say that my organization that I have fought for, that I’ve paid money to help protect my job and help me to the very best job I can in my classroom is causing the major problems in the state. I just can’t buy that. That is hurtful.”
ISTA President Teresa Meredith said in an email Saturday that Rep. Culver’s remarks were “not productive.”
“Maybe his world would be better off without ISTA, but certainly not the lives of public school kids and all the teachers and support staff who serve them every day,” Meredith said. “Charter-promoting, takeover promoting, private corporate promoting … instead of programs to help kids. We all should be concerned about what the Legislature is doing.”
Meredith said educators are feeling no respect or value for the work they do.
“It is time for bashing to stop — bashing of teachers, of support professionals, and of the associations they choose to belong to and participate in that seems to keep showing up in proposed legislation,” she said.
Meredith also said although membership has declined in recent years as teachers retired and were not replaced in many school corporations, the decline seems to have “leveled off.”
“Schools have cut as far as they can and are starting to hire again,” she said, “so we believe we are potentially poised for growth again.”
Other education news
Local lawmakers on Saturday commented on several other education-related bills moving through the Legislature.
Yoder said the Senate on Monday will consider a plan to shorten the ISTEP test by three hours by eliminating the Social Studies portion of the test and making other minor tweaks.
“(Lawmakers) are trying several small things to lower it as much as possible,” he said.
Senate Bill 1, which would allow the state Board of Education’s chairperson to be chosen by the board instead of automatically appointing the Superintendent of Public Instruction, passed through the Senate chamber 33-17.
Yoder said the bill is different from the House version because it would also strip Gov. Pence of some of his appointees.
“The governor wasn’t real pleased with us on that and superintendent Ritz is obviously not pleased,” Yoder said. “They’re all upset about it at this point so we must be finding more of that middle ground.”
Culver explained House Bill 1005, which would provide a $200 tax credit for teachers who purchase classroom supplies.
Another bill Culver discussed calls for a 2.3 percent boost over each of the next two years for education.
Gov. Pence had allocated a 1 percent increase to education spending the first year and a 2 percent increase the second year, Culver said.
House Bill 1001 changes that allocation to 2.3 percent for both years and would use funding that would have been used for building projects at state-owned colleges and universities, Culver explained.
The state owns colleges such as Indiana University, Purdue University and Ball State and would otherwise have paid for building projects using cash, he said.
“The House said ‘no, get a loan for those,” Culver said.
The loans would free up a few hundred million dollars to be allocated toward education.
“The upside is education got more money. The downside is we’re borrowing money to pay for education, so we’ll be paying for that over the next 30 years,” Culver said. “…I don’t see that as a healthy plan for us continuing to do.”