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Op/Ed: With Rebuilding Stronger, IPS will do for all students what it did for us

By: Lacy Johnson, Joyce Rogers and Rick Fuson || Published Jan. 19, 2023 in The Indianapolis Star

As alumni of Indianapolis Public Schools (IPS), we — along with six other fellow alumni — know that we stand where we are today because of the doors that IPS opened for us. We’re writing to ask you, citizens and voters of our community, to open those doors for a next generation.

All of us have done what most parents hope for. We’ve stayed in or returned to the community that built us, contributed, and thrived — as attorneys, a CEO, business and nonprofit leaders and more. Our families made us who we are — and Indianapolis Public Schools did so much to make us what we are. In part, that’s because neighbors and strangers alike paid the freight so we could soar.

All of us can remember the names and faces of people we owe a debt to — whether it was third grade with Ms. Ruby, junior high with teacher and civil rights activist John Morton-Finney or high school English with Ms. Huffington. We were pushed by passionate coaches like coach Kuntz at Arlington High School, and we got to explore our passions like learning a foreign language in Mrs. Portilla’s class and diving into current events in Mr. Burdick’s government class. 

Through IPS, we didn’t just get the academic skills we needed to go on to success — we got opportunities to figure out what excites us most and the framework to be hard working, respectful and engaged citizens in our community. 

Experiences like ours occur every day at IPS. But here’s the thing — experiences like ours are far from universal in the district. Too many kids don’t get what we had because great choices aren’t available in every neighborhood and every school. Many kids don’t get access to extracurriculars like Spanish and art — and they aren’t promised rigorous curriculum that will get them ready for college. And too many of them are in buildings in desperate need of repair, buildings whose condition suggests that what happens inside isn’t vitally important. We’re living proof that it is.

But, what if we told you, for the cost of a value meal each month, every kid in Indianapolis could have what we had? That every student could have access to great schools with excellent offerings? Well, it’s possible — through a plan called Rebuilding Stronger, proposed by Superintendent Dr. Aleesia Johnson following a year of community input and passed unanimously by the school board Nov. 17, 2022. 

Rebuilding Stronger ensures every single student in Indianapolis — in every neighborhood — will have access to a great school and excellent choices. It’s about saying good enough for some of us is no longer good enough. Our schools have to be great for everyone. 

Through Rebuilding Stronger, IPS is poised to replicate and expand high-demand, higher-performing programs in more neighborhoods and for more students. That means both increasing seats in our higher-performing schools and increasing the number of high-demand schools. The plan focuses on the east, west and south sides of the city, where few choice program options have ever existed. Importantly, Rebuilding Stronger will also make an investment in our facilities so that every student is in a building that reflects the value we place on learning. 

But we can’t do all of this for free. IPS has done as much as it can to cut costs and build a budget that is reflective of what our community values. That’s responsible and necessary. But cutting costs isn’t what makes excellence happen. That takes investment from the community. 

Rebuilding Stronger is supported by a pair of referendums that will go out to the community for a vote this spring. The first — a capital referendum — will support essential facilities upgrades. The second — an operating referendum — will raise compensation for the teachers that make our school experiences and expand excellent, in-demand enrichment offerings. 

If voters approve this package, the cost to the median homeowner will be about $6 a month. 

We are so grateful for what IPS gave us. And now we can’t wait to give up a little something each month so every kid in an IPS school can have what we had.

We all will celebrate that value meal we’re skipping, in favor of giving thousands of kids what we had. A small sacrifice for us is a life-changing investment in our kids and our community. Let’s Rebuild Stronger. 

Lacy M. Johnson is a partner at Taft Stettinius & Hollister LLP; Joyce Rogers is executive vice president of development for the IU Foundation; Rick Fuson is theCEO of Pacers Sports & Entertainment.

Other IPS alumni: Lee C. Christie, Keith DeTrude, Charles Eberhardt, Kristian Little Stricklen, Patricia Payne and Dennis Southerland.