Educators and education advocates gathered at Monroe County Public Library Southwest in Bloomington for a roundtable event discussing current local education issues Sunday, Oct. 1. The event was hosted by the Indiana Coalition for Public Education–Monroe County, a nonpartisan, nonprofit education advocacy group.
“Public education is amazing. It's an amazing thing that's been transforming as our country transforms,” Keri Miksza, ICPE chair and roundtable speaker, said. “Today we're tackling community questions to help break through the noise and confusion.”
Eight speakers discussed six topics, which ranged from Monroe County legislation to national-level debates.
John Kenny, Chief Financial Officer for the Monroe County Community School Corporation, discussed the upcoming MCCSC 2023 referendum which, if approved, would benefit early childhood education and provide other financial support services.
Kenny said the referendum would provide free preschool for children ages 3 and 4, preparing them for kindergarten. This would lessen the equity gap and give children a boost that would last throughout and beyond their educational career.
“The spot you end up after that first year [of kindergarten] is just monumentally different, and it's all because of kindergarten readiness, which is age 3 and age 4,” Kenny said. “If we can get a higher percentage of the Monroe County kids ready for kindergarten through this initiative, the whole community wins.”
At the roundtable, Kenny talked about the need to add more available pre-K spots in case the referendum passes. MCCSC is working with preschools to increase the district’s preschool capacity, he said. While they may not have them available by next year, they expect to have them ready in two to three years — a year after the referendum would make them free, and when the district expects the majority of demand will come.
Richland- Bean Blossom Community Schools’ assistant superintendent, Matt Irwin, broke down how area schools are funded. His presentation focused on where education funding was limited; for example, how state caps on property taxes can cause schools to lose money.
One point Irwin brought up was Indiana’s Choice Scholarship program, commonly known as the voucher program. This program allots state education funding to scholarships for eligible students which subsidize the cost of some private schools.
The difficulty, according to Irwin, is that the voucher program pulls from the same funding as public schools. That means, for every student who’s approved for a voucher, money that could go to public schools instead goes to private ones.
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Miksza expanded on school choice in a presentation. Monroe County schools are facing a teacher shortage, she said, and having less funding means they can’t offer a competitive salary.
"State funding, which pays for your teachers, has diminished, it hasn't kept up with inflation and it’s also being cut apart,” Miksza said. “There's holes in the bucket, because it's also trying to fund all the voucher programs, it’s also trying to fund the charter schools.”
Presenters Wendy Marencik, clinical assistant professor emerita at IU, Sarah Cassavaugh, special education liaison and team leader for social services organization IN*SOURCE, and Jennifer Bickel, assistant special education director for MCCSC, answered questions about special education from their different perspectives. A lot of their discussion stemmed from questions from youth leaders about how they could address students with disabilities, Marencik said.
Another presenter, Hal Turner, co-chair of political depolarization nonprofit Braver Angels, spoke about finding common ground in polarized school settings through commonalities. Laura Stickels, early learning manager for MCCSC, talked about preschool, particularly surrounding the potential referendum.