Valeri Kershaw, a Meadows Elementary Title 1 reading teacher, wore black to school Wednesday — for a reason.

At Meadows, and districtwide, many teachers and staff dressed in black as part of Blackout4ED, a statewide effort organized by the Indiana State Teachers Association to draw attention to what they see as the Indiana Legislature’s lack of support for public education.

Teachers protest by wearing black

Tribune-Star/Joseph C. GarzaBringing attention to education: Meadows Elementary School first-grade teacher Julie Sutliff helps students find their parents after school Wednesday. Sutliff and other teachers at the school wore black to show their support for #Blackout4Ed.

Those participating cited a lack of funding for public schools; failure to make teachers a priority for the COVID-19 vaccine; and legislation attacking teachers unions and teacher rights.

They also are concerned about House Bill 1005, which would greatly expand private school vouchers and create Education Scholarship Accounts, diverting significant funding away from public schools.

At Meadows, Kershaw wore black jeans and a black sweater because “we are facing a crisis in the state of Indiana,” with insufficient funding and a lack of support for teachers and school staff.

Wearing black “is a statewide demonstration of our frustration,” she said.

“I’ve been quarantined twice because of COVID,” 14 days each time, Kershaw said. While teachers in several other states are being vaccinated, Indiana teachers have not been prioritized.

“I’m not scared of getting COVID myself, but I don’t want to pass it around,” she said. “I’ve completely changed my lifestyle so I’m not a COVID spreader.”

Teachers protest by wearing black

Wearing black: Several teachers and staff and Lost Creek Elementary wore black Wednesday as part of Blackout4ED, a statewide effort organized by the Indiana State Teachers Association. Those participating cite a lack of funding for public schools; failure to make teachers a priority for the COVID-19 vaccine; and legislation attacking teachers unions and teacher rights.

Heidi McDonald, president of the Vigo County Teachers Association and teacher at West Vigo High School, also wore black.

“I want our public schools across the state to be adequately and equitably funded,” McDonald said. “Over 90% percent of Indiana students attend public schools, and that funding is important in providing services for those students as well as improving teacher compensation.”

Jodie Buckallew, Lost Creek Elementary teacher who coordinated the event in Vigo County, said that districtwide, “We’ve had an overwhelming response” in support of the Blackout.

Major concerns include the lack of consideration given for improving teacher pay as well as a proposed budget that gives more money to private school vouchers at the expense of public schools, she said.

“We trust our elected officials that we send to Indianapolis to do what is right for their community,” Buckallew said. “If they are not voting for public education, then they are choosing to not contribute to the growth of their community”

Bill Riley, VCSC director of communications, said, “We support our educators today as they wear black and raise awareness about current legislative activity that would harm public education across our state.”

Superintendents’ letter

In a separate, but related matter, public school superintendents in Sullivan and Greene counties have signed a letter opposing House Bill 1005 and related bills in the Senate, SB 412 and 413; the letter will be sent to area legislators.

“We ask you to vote no on these three bills as they will divert funding away from Indiana’s public schools,” the letter states. “In our communities, our public schools provide vital services supporting children and families,” something reinforced during the pandemic.

Voucher expansion and Education Scholarship Accounts “divert significant monies away from our public schools and lack oversight and accountability,” the letter says.

The letter also advocates for increases in teacher compensation.

HB 1005 comes with a reported pricetag of $202 million over two years, the letter says. The Next Level Teacher Compensation Commission report says that an additional $600 million investment is needed to increase teacher compensation to be competitive in the region.

“The cost of HB 1005 should be diverted back into the public school funding formula to begin the focus on meeting the recommendations of that report,” the letter says.

The superintendents say they join several other organizations in opposing the bills, including the Indiana School Boards Association, Indiana Association of Public School Superintendents, Indiana Council of Administrators of Special Education and the Indiana Parent-Teacher Association.

“This proposed legislation is simply the latest attack on public education,” the letter says.

Those superintendents signing are Mark Baker, Northeast School Corp.; Chris Stitzle, Southwest Sullivan School Corp.; Kathy Goad, Linton-Stockton School Corp.; Bob Hacker, White River Valley School District; Trent Lehman, Bloomfield School District; Trent Provo, Eastern Greene; and Jeff Gambill, MSD Shakamak.

Sue Loughlin can be reached at 812-231-4235 or at sue.loughlin@tribstar.com Follow Sue on Twitter @TribStarSue.

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