In the midst of what seems to be a particularly cantankerous election season, attending Chalk the Vote: How Your Vote Impacts Education on October 19 was a much needed bright spot. The School on Wheels community was joined by a panel of community experts, representing a range of professional backgrounds but united by their passion for creating a better educational future for Indianapolis’ students.

chalk the vote panelists

Panelists included (from left to right):

Patrick McAlister, Director of Policy at Teach Plus-Indianapolis
Claire McInerny, education reporter for Indiana Public Broadcasting
Breanca Merritt, PhD, Senior Research Analyst at the Indiana University Public Policy Institute

The evening consisted of information and  a discussion from our expert panelists about where I, as an individual who is passionate about quality education for all students, should focus my energy in this election season. Here are my biggest take-aways from the night’s conversation:

Do Your Research 

I am often reminded that I don’t know what I don’t know. I was reminded again at Chalk The Vote. While I thought I knew which positions had the biggest influence on education policy, it turns out I didn’t. I learned what elected officials are charged with creating education policy (it’s the legislature), and which are charged with implementing that policy once it is created (the Department of Education and the Superintendent). The races for legislature are often the most important in terms of education policy, and many don’t know who represents them. Unless my passion for education motivates action towards research on who these individuals are, my vote will not be as impactful as it could be.

Our panelists and School on Wheels staff suggest the following places to get you started:

  • Chalkbeat IN is a fantastic source of information about educational issues in Indianapolis/Marion County Schools. They have explainers about all kinds of topics and also have a morning email where you can get the most up-to-date stories delivered to your inbox each day.
  • StateImpact Indiana is a collaboration of  WFIU Public Radio and Indiana Public Broadcasting stations to explain the effects of state education policy on people’s lives. Claire McInerny, one of our panelists from Chalk the Vote, writes for StateImpact and it’s a great place to learn more about education issues throughout the state.
  • MCCOY’s Indiana General Assembly Voting Record on Youth-Related Legislation is a robust source of information if you’re curious about legislation that was brought forward relating to youth during the 2016 session and how local legislators have voted for them.

Pay Attention to More Than Education 

There are many policies that impact the students served by School on Wheels, and while much of it lies in the realm of education policy, some of it does not. Decisions about Free and Reduced Lunch are made in agriculture policy. The definition of homelessness and the services available to those experiencing homelessness are often determined by health and human service policy. All of these things impact our students and their education, and we need to pay attention to all of them to make a brighter future for our students.

Stay Involved

Voting is just the beginning. As the panel talked, the statement they kept coming back to was, “Your voice matters more than you think it does.” We often think that legislators only listen to lobbyists and special interest groups. As we were informed by the panel, that’s because most of the time those are the only people they hear from. If we care about education policy, we need to communicate our thoughts, concerns and support to legislators at all levels.

The policies that protect, support and encourage our students are a complex issue. However, we have a voice. My goal coming out of Chalk The Vote is to do my research before November 8, to cast the votes that I feel best support our students, and then to keep my voice in the mix going forward!

How will you use your vote to impact education?

Did you miss Chalk the Vote? You can watch the full panel here, or check out our Storify to see more highlights from the events. Make sure to check out the resources above to do your research, and before November 8, make sure you check your polling place here!