More than 100 county residents, mostly teachers, attended the second Clay County Cracker Barrel of 2011, which took place at the Jackson Township Firehouse.
The annual events are co-sponsored by the Clay County Chamber of Commerce and the Clay County Farm Bureau. The first Clay County Cracker Barrel this year took place in Cory in January.
Senator Richard Bray (R-District 37) was not in attendance.
All four legislators had the opportunity to provide updates prior to the question and answer session.
"This is the biggest crowd I've seen here," Waterman said. "It's good to see a big crowd."
"We're getting more and more people involved," Heaton added. "It's good to be engaged."
"There are so many big issues that affect individual lives," Kersey said.
Regardless of all the issues facing state government, the majority of the residents in attendance Saturday centered their questions on education reform.
"It's pretty obvious what you want to talk about," Baird said as he addressed the crowd.
Before taking questions from the audience, Kersey briefly explained a handful of House Bills that were causing him concern, specifically regarding education.
"There has been a tremendous attack on public education," Kersey said. "My greatest fear is public schools will be fragmented."
Kersey expressed concern with House Bill 1002, which would expand charter schools in the state, giving parents a choice for their children's education. The bill passed the Indiana House and was on its way to the Senate, where it was expected to pass.
When the bill was in the House, both Baird and Heaton voted in favor. Kersey voted against the bill.
Other bills he said he was concerned about included House Bill 1003, a school voucher bill. The bill was approved by a panel of state representatives last week and would allow vouchers to be available for students to leave the public school system and attend private schools with public dollars; House Bill 1479, which Kersey said was essentially a school performance bill allowing the state to assume control of schools deemed as failing; and House Bill 1584, which would allow the Indiana State Board of Education to waive state law, something Kersey said "supercedes what legislators have done."
Kersey made it clear he was not opposed to charter schools, but was concerned that they "are not held to the same accountability as public schools."
"I'm really, really concerned with the direction we're going with public education," Kersey said.
When Baird greeted the audience, he disagreed with Kersey's concerns
"I don't think anyone is trying to demonize teachers," he said.
Baird said he believed some children needed extra attention and charter schools could be the answer.
"Maybe there are some (students) that need that," he said. "And there's only so many dollars for education."
Heaton told the audience he applauded public educators and does not like the rhetoric coming out of the Indianapolis from state officials, but was then asked, "Why aren't you standing up for us?"
Most at Saturday's Cracker Barrel stated they believed the state should consider doing away with the Indiana Statewide Testing for Educational Progress-Plus (ISTEP+). Several in the audience said teachers were finding it difficult to educate students when they were essentially only working to get students ready to take ISTEP+.
Waterman said he presents a bill to do away with ISTEP+ every year, and few notice.
"That's the biggest waste of time," he said.
"There are too many tests," he said. "I don't know how you have time to teach."
Clay Community School Corporation Curriculum Director Kathy Knust said she was disappointed with the situation as well, adding if there was "no money, then why are you taking more from public education and giving it to charter and private schools."
Knust also stated data she had showed charter schools, across the board, do not perform as well as public schools.
Former Clay Community Classroom Teachers' Association President Russ True echoed the frustrations of the others in the audience, asking the representatives, "How do we respond? How do we teach?"
The final Cracker Barrel this year will take place Saturday, March 19, at the YMCA of Clay County. It is scheduled to begin at 10 a.m.