One afternoon in sophomore English class, I was reading aloud a selection from a Hemingway short story (“Big Two-Hearted River”), which I'd chosen as an example of writing I particularly liked.

I had just gotten to that part where the protagonist, Nick Adams, sits down beside a burned tree stump and watches a grasshopper climb onto his woolen sock, when there was a sudden, loud crash right next to me: a section of the ceiling tile had fallen on the neighboring desk, which thankfully was empty, scattering debris on me and my book.

Such was the condition of the high school from which I would eventually graduate. The aged building was literally falling in around us.

At the time the school board consisted of three township trustees and their appointees, and if they were united on any subject it was that the school property-tax rate was never to increase, for any reason, ever, no matter what.

I was lucky, in that I came from a home where reading was encouraged, and to have had teachers, particularly Mrs. Holt in the fifth grade, who made it possible for me to move beyond what was supposedly my “level” and get books from both the high school library and our local Carnegie library.

My card number at the Carnegie library was 1912, which I remembered because it was the year Woodrow Wilson was first elected president — Wilson, who chose as his vice president a Hoosier, Thomas Riley Marshall (he of the "really good five-cent cigar"), because Thomas Taggart, the boss of Indiana Democrats, made his support of Wilson contingent upon it at the party convention.

I knew all that because of Mrs. Holt.

So I could maneuver my way around a school building that was falling apart, achieve at a pace beyond a system that couldn't provide me with all the best educational accoutrements.

Other classmates weren't so lucky; despite having done well in high school, at college they suddenly found themselves struggling, and many eventually dropped out.

I have been writing about the lamentable state of public-school funding in Indiana for 30-plus years now, and it's no better today than when I started in the newspaper business.

Which is really extraordinary, when you think about it.

For there is no better investment of tax dollars than public education given the resulting benefits. But it's hard to convince political figures of that. There's bipartisan stubbornness.

Politicians in Indianapolis fall back on the bromide of how much of the state budget is targeted to “education,” while local politicians argue the tax dollars in their charge weren't collected for schools but for other things — like parking lots.

Yet, no matter how much of a tax break we give to corporations or how much money gets spent on vanity projects such as the Pantheon, in the end any measure of how attractive the state or the local community is to outsiders will come down to what kind of schools there are.

And good schools aren't just for attracting new residents; they're primarily for serving students and families who already live here and pay those taxes. They deserve consideration.

The reality is, there is no shortage of tax dollars for schools. Ample tax dollars are being collected, at the statehouse and the courthouse, to improve investment in public education.

What is lacking is the willingness of elected officials to funnel those needed dollars into schools.

It is clear that state lawmakers can't be counted on for more help, even though they want the public schools to become training centers for businesses.

By default, properly funding public education is a local issue. Local officials have to decide what's more important, their own vanities or the vitality realized from better-funded schools.

Waiting around another 30 years on the state to do something more just isn't an option.

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