INDIANAPOLIS (AP) - Tens of thousands of Indiana students are having a
school day called off as their teachers make plans to attend a
union-organized Statehouse rally that could signal an increase in educator
activism regarding teacher pay and other issues.
school district officials say with so many teachers requesting personal time
off for the Nov. 19 rally, they decided to shut their doors because they
wouldn’t be able to find enough substitute teachers to cover classrooms. But
they also say they support the push by teachers for a bigger boost in school
Leaders of the state’s two main teacher unions project that 5,000 or more
teachers could attend the Statehouse lobbying effort on the day that members
of the Republican-dominated Legislature are gathering for organizational
meetings ahead of their 2020 session that starts in early January.
than 35 of the state’s nearly 300 school districts had canceled classes by
Thursday afternoon or were having students work online from home, according
to teacher union counts. Those ranged from large urban districts in
Indianapolis, Evansville, South Bend and Hammond to small rural districts
such as North Miami Community Schools, which has 900 students.
Indiana State Teachers Association President Keith Gambill said many of the
union’s members are frustrated because they have seen little or no pay
raises in a decade but face additional demands from the state. He said this
is despite them writing letters, attending hometown meetings with lawmakers
and holding Statehouse rallies on Saturdays.
too many legislators that message just hasn’t gotten through to them,”
Gambill said. “In a state where over 90% of Hoosier families send their
child to a public school, we have to do better by our public schools.”
Large protests have come elsewhere amid a wave of teacher activism that
began last year in West Virginia and spread to other states, including
Kentucky, Oklahoma and Arizona.
Indiana Democrats and teacher unions panned the new state budget approved by
Republicans in April that boosted base school spending by 2.5% each of the
next two years.
Republican Gov. Eric Holcomb and GOP legislative leaders touted the plan as
making strides toward improving teacher pay. But they faced criticism for
not directing some of the state’s $2 billion in cash reserves toward schools
and for a funding distribution plan that increased traditional school
district funding by about 2% a year, while charter schools saw 10% more
money and private school voucher funding increased 9% the first budget year
and about 5.5% the second year.
School districts canceling classes will have to make up the school day to
meet the state’s 180-day requirement, with some already saying they will
have classes on a day set aside in case of a snow day.
widespread school closures might not even help the teachers’ cause as
lawmakers don’t typically take up big money matters during sessions after
they’ve approved the two-year state budget, said Betsy Wiley, president of
the advocacy group Institute for Quality Education, which backs Indiana’s
charter school and private school voucher programs.
“Whether you support or don’t support the cause, I don’t think it’s right to
close school and not provide education to those kids and inconvenience those
students and families on that day,” Wiley said.
State schools Superintendent Jennifer McCormick, who has split from many
fellow Republicans on education policy issues, is backing the rally dubbed
“Red for Ed Action Day.”
“Their mobilization effort demonstrates the need for legislative action in
regard to adequate and equitable K-12 funding impacting educators and
support staff compensation, as this is an issue that cannot be solved at the
local level alone,” McCormick said in a statement. “Being the 50th state out
of 50 in salary increases since 2002 is not acceptable.”
governor’s office said in a statement that local school districts could
decide what is best for their students and that Holcomb has made finding
ways for long-term teacher pay improvement a top priority.
will continue to seek innovative ideas to ensure Indiana attracts and
retains top teachers, and our students receive the best education,” the
Tahara, superintendent of the Concord Community Schools near Elkhart in
northern Indiana, said he decided to cancel Nov. 19 classes after more than
100 teachers notified the district they would be taking the day off, which
far exceeded the number of available substitute teachers.
Tahara said he supported the teachers’ goals and didn’t expect a backlash
from parents over the school closure.
think by and large our parents agree that this is just an important job
helping raise our children and making them productive citizens, so why can’t
teachers get more pay for what they do?” he said.
teacher unions are also pushing for a rollback in the use of student test
scores to evaluate teachers and schools after lower scores on the state’s
new ILEARN standardized exam taken last spring. They also want the repeal of
new license requirements adopted this year requiring teachers to log 15
hours of professional development regarding the needs of local employers.
last year, easily, teachers have been saying we need to take some action,”
said Sally Sloan, executive director for the American Federation of Teachers
Indiana. “We think this is just the beginning.”