Post & Mail photo/Phil Smith
Surrounded by a throng of concerned teachers, Rep. Kathy Heuer R-Columbia CIty reflects on her first weeks as a freshman state representative.
COLUMBIA CITY â The narrow corridor of Columbia Cityâs CC Deli was standing room only Saturday morning as anxious teachers and educators inundated local state lawmakers with hard questions about the direction education funding is heading in Indianapolis.
âIt hurts my heart when our governor says weâre in it for the money,â said an impassioned Cheryl Stalter, Northern Heights kindergarten teacher.
âI know that God gave me the talent to teach and I want you guys to know that we do it because we love these children or we wouldnât walk into that school every day.â
State Reps. Kathy Heuer (R-Columbia City) and Dan Leonard (R-Huntington), as well as State Sen. Jim Banks, R-Columbia City, attended the GOP Legislative Breakfast, which began at 8:30 a.m. Saturday.
Teachers throughout the state have had all eyes on the Statehouse as lawmakers, shackled with a struggling economy and a choked revenue stream are trying to find a way to fund K-12 education without raising taxes.
âThere are about 100 school systems throughout the state that will lose in both dollars per student and in total dollars,â Leonard said.
âIâm telling you weâre a billion dollars short of K-12 funding than we were two years ago.â
Leonard said there had been a âtremendous outcryâ to reduce property taxes, which cut into education funding.
He also said the newly-elected Republican-heavy House of Representatives are trying to find money in what some would call âporkâ projects.
âI sat through hours of testimony from the horsemen that felt we should fund the pots for the race horses more than we should fund K-12,â he said.
âIâm sorry, but I donât feel that way.â
At issue with the teachers â Gov. Mitch Daniels desire to reward teacher performance, his issue with teachers being retained during layoffs simply because of tenure and his campaign to bolster the existence and creation of charter schools.
âIâve done this business for 44 years and I didnât do it to get rich,â said John Estes, a Columbia City native and teacher at Fort Wayne Northrop High School.
âBut, I also didnât do it to get poor and you people had better figure it out.â
Estes said he has a theory why Daniels is pushing hard for what the governor calls education reform.
âThe governor is running for president,â Estes said. âHe wonât win and he knows that, but he wants a cabinet position and heâs using all of you people to get it.â
The crowd broke into deafening applause.
Standing in and amongst the largest concentration of teachers at the breakfast, Heuer said she empathized with their concerns.
âIâm going to speak from here,â she said when her turn to address the crowd came. âThe folks behind me feel theyâre in a situation where theyâre being dictated to.
âOur intention is not to hurt our public schools. I just want to assure the educators and teachers that the Legislature is there to help.â
Heuer said she voted for the charter school legislation because area superintendents said it wouldnât affect schools in this area and it gave more choice to disadvantaged families.
âWeâre talking about two percent of the population,â she said.
âWe were responding to the parents who have said over and over and over again, âplease give us an alternative.ââ
Opponents of the charter school legislation say with the added choice of attending charter schools, students could migrate away from public schools.
âI donât think youâre going to see that in Whitley County,â Heuer said.
For Banks, the primary focus of his inaugural term as state senator has been passing the state budget and redistricting as a result of the 2010 census.
âWeâre gotten off to a running start,â he said. âThese are the two things we have to pass this session. Weâre engaged in a sprint on several important issues.
In response to the outcry from local educators on the education reform agenda, Heuer said she would return to Whitley County for more meetings with educators in the next few weeks.