HUNTINGTON, Ind. (WANE) – Educators in Huntington County are demanding lawmakers to ‘stop gutting, public education.’

“We have closed two elementary buildings. We have closed part of another building, the middle school portion of Salamonie and we’ve cut funding. We’ve cut teachers. We’ve cut support staff,” said Huntington County Teacher Association member and middle school teacher Mandy Barnum. “We are in a situation where we need more money. We need more funding. We need more hands-on deck. We feel like if we continue to give private institutions these funds then we need to hold them accountable as public schools.”

Huntington County educators gathered Wednesday afternoon at the intersection of U.S. 24 and N. Broadway Street to bring awareness to public education funding bills which are working there way through the general assembly. The location of the informational picket was chosen because it is across the street from Republican State Senator Andy Zay’s business.

The group, which consists of educators from across the county, started gathering around 4 p.m. and at one point grew to more than 80 teachers, administrators and their supports.

“We are here protesting for our families and saying this is not what’s best for our students, this is not what’s best for the students of Huntington County,” said Huntington County Teacher Association member and elementary school teacher Mandy Stephenson. “I think we are being heard more now. But I think there is more work that has to be done to make public education what’s best for our students.”

“We want people to be aware that teachers aren’t greedy individuals looking for more money to pad our pockets,” Barnum said. “We’ve gone many years without raises. Our corporation is doing the best they can but school funding has not kept up with inflation.”

Indiana students in public schools make up 93% of the total traditional student population with the remaining 7% of students on the state’s voucher system. The voucher system allows students to choose what school they go to.

The state gives schools money for each student they teach and when a student moves schools or participates in the voucher program, the money follows the child. Since the program started in 2011 public schools have lost millions of dollars.

According to data by the Indiana Coalition for Public Education this year alone the Huntington County Community School Corporation has lost more than $900,000. That number is expected to grow for all schools.

Several of the teachers who attended Wednesday’s rally also traveled to Indianapolis in 2019 for the Red for Ed Day rally. Since the rally school has received a boost in funding. However, the teachers told WANE 15 a majority of the raises they received were only a few hundred dollars. The highest being, $1,400.

However, that raise went toward many of the teacher’s classrooms and students. One teacher during the rally even used the back of her poster to help walk a student through biology homework over the phone.

“Our day doesn’t end when the bell rings,” Barnum said. “We love our students and want them to be successful.”

After a year of COVID-19 and new legislation going through the General Assembly, several of the teachers WANE spoke with say they are not going anywhere until public education receives the funding it did back in 2011. They are also demanding lawmakers to “stop gutting, public education.” Officials with the Huntington County Teachers Association strongly oppose the proposed legislation of House Bill 1001, House Bill 1005 and Senate Bill 413.

House Bill 1001 will provide more money for school voucher programs and includes several one-time investments. The plan gives kindergarten through 12th grade schools an additional $378 million over the next two years, but more than a third of that amount will go to the voucher program.

House Bill 1005 states that after June 30, 2022, parents of special education students, students with a parent serving on active duty in the military, students who are in foster care, or emancipated students may be eligible to receive scholarship monies to be used toward non-public education or any education-related expense.

The bill further states that monies from the program could not be spent on public education in order to prohibit “double-dipping” in state funding.

Senate Bill 413 goes into detail and explains that the choice scholarship program would increase the amount that a student could receive in funding to 90% of state tuition support. Income eligibility also would increase for siblings who choose to participate in the program.

The Huntington County Teachers Association believes the budget and bills will disproportionately divert taxpayer funds from public educational institutions to fund private schools.

Educators say that the rallies and talk of public education funding are not over. They ask if you support them to call your legislator and voice your concerns.