By Jessica Wray
The head of a national teachers' union told protesters who rallied outside the Statehouse on Thursday that Gov. Mitch Daniels' education reform agenda would "destabilize" Indiana's schools.
Randi Weingarten, president of the American Federation of Teachers, headlined an event that came near the end of the second consecutive week of protests by union members who are supporting Indiana House Democrats' decision to boycott the chamber, and lock down this year's legislative session in the process.
She took aim at Daniels and State Superintendent of Public Instruction Tony Bennett, another Republican who is supporting Daniels' efforts to overhaul Indiana's education system, in part by expanding the number of charter schools in the state and offering private school vouchers.
"I would love to have a face-to-face with you," she said, to ask: "Why is it, when you tell Hoosiers that you have to cut their school budgets, that you then use that money to destabilize education by creating vouchers? If you do not have money for your public schools, how do you have money for an alternative system that has never been shown to work?"
The protesters who gathered on the south steps of the Capitol building were organized largely by the Indiana State AFL-CIO and the Indiana Federation of Teachers (IFT).
The coalition of demonstrators is rallying against several measures that legislative Republicans are advancing. In addition to charter schools and vouchers, they oppose Daniels' proposal to limit teachers' collective bargaining rights to wages and benefits.
They also oppose several labor-related bills, including several that they say would drive down the wages of those who work on public-sector capital projects.
After a shout from the crowd of, "Let's take them down," in reference to legislators pushing the charters and vouchers measures, Weingarten said, "the way, my friends, we do this, is we organize, we mobilize and we educate."
Other speakers at the rally included Rick Muir, IFT president, as well as union workers and teachers.
"Make no mistake, public education is under attack," Muir said. "All working men and women are under attack."
Bob Warnock, president of the Teamsters Local 364 union, said that Teamsters union workers had been at the Statehouse every day with about 200 members protesting.
"We're all here to support workers - workers and teachers, the middle class," Warnock said. "I've been up here every day since this started. We're here for one reason: We care about workers, the middle class, teachers. We need jobs."
Warnock said he supported the Democratic boycott, which is set to extend into its third week.
"They're doing what they have to do to protect working people in Indiana," Warnock said.
The above is one of an ongoing series of reports from the Indiana Statehouse by students at the Franklin College Pulliam School of Journalism.