For the second time in as many months, education topped the list of Cracker Barrel concerns.
The third Clay County Cracker Barrel of 2011 took place Saturday at the YMCA of Clay County. The sessions are co-sponsored by the Clay County Chamber of Commerce and the Clay County Farm Bureau.
Indiana Representatives Jim Baird (Republican, District 44) and Robert Heaton (R-District 46) were in attendance, along with Senator Richard Bray (R-District 37).
Senator John Waterman (R-District 39) and Representative Clyde Kersey (Democrat, District 43) did not attend.
Baird, Heaton and Bray provided updates to the 81 in attendance prior to fielding questions.
"Certainly, these are unprecedented times," Baird said, referring to several House Democrats walking out of the legislative process.
Baird, however, said he was pleased the House Ways and Means Committee has proposed a balanced budget that preserves education funding and adds no new taxes.
"The (Democrats) walked out Feb. 22," Heaton added. "A lot of things have been stalled. But we need to continue to move forward."
Heaton also expressed concern for education, saying he was frustrated that larger school corporations receive more tax money.
"Why is there a difference per student," he asked.
Bray said while the House has had its share of problems, things were different for the Senate.
"In the Senate, things have been less exciting," he said. "But things are beginning to come to a standstill, which is very unfortunate and irresponsible. It's beginning to become more and more serious. We cannot allow the state to come to a standstill."
The trio of legislators fielded several questions from members of the audience Saturday, but the majority of them centered on education.
A handful of questions revolved around House Bill 1003, which would allow an increase of tax monies being used for charter schools.
One resident asked the legislators if there were a cap on the amount of money that could be used for a voucher, would the remaining money stay with the school corporation.
While the three appeared in agreement, another attendee asked Clay Community School Corporation (CCSC) Curriculum Director Kathy Knust to address the crowd and legislators.
"You're voting on the bill. You're the ones that need to know the answers," Knust said, adding she believed they didn't have full answers. "That is frightening."
Knust also expressed frustration regarding Indiana Superintendent of Public Instruction Tony Bennett.
"He's supposed to guide us and give us support," Knust said. "He is the Superintendent of Public Instruction, not the Superintendent of Private Instruction. He should support us first."
Heaton said there were several amendments surrounding the bill and with several House Democrats recently leaving the state, discussion on the bill has stalled.
"This is a process," Heaton said. "I appreciate your comments, but this is about the process."
Heaton also said charter schools are public schools and tax dollars are already filtered in them.
"It's tough," he said. "We understand the pain. We need to do all we can to help (students). It all boils down to helping every pupil, not just a few of them."
CCSC School Board member Ron Scherb asked the three if they were aware public vouchers had been declared unconstitutional in other states.
Scherb said he believed the problem with education centered on specific areas of the state and asked if something could be done for those areas only.
"You're changing everything statewide," Scherb said.
"As a state representative, I represent the state of Indiana, not just my district," Heaton said. "If we're doing a fine job, why would we change anything?"
Baird added he didn't want the system to be "patch worked."
Clay County Council representative Rita Rothrock asked if Clay County tax dollars would be put to use for charter schools in other areas. If not, the money, she said, would be put to use and should be put to use in Clay County.
Bray responded by saying county property taxes stay within the county and expressed frustration that some counties, such as Marion, received more tax money per student than other counties.
Another resident asked the three if a referendum vote could be applied to HB 1003. A referendum is, essentially, a ballot question.
"I personally would support the public to have greater input," Baird said.
Meanwhile, another resident asked if they were aware that tax money was going to inmates in order to provide further education.
Bray said this shouldn't be the case and added he would look into the issue.
"I'm opposed to this and if this is happening, it will stop," Bray said.
Moderator and Farm Bureau representative Marshall Nuckolls reminded the audience another Cracker Barrel could be scheduled in the future.