Indiana legislators may have thought they fixed the state’s education funding last spring when they approved a budget that increased K-12 funding by over $760 million over a two-year period.
But judging by the enthusiasm for Tuesday’s Red for Ed Action Day at the Statehouse, Hoosier teachers and their friends aren’t persuaded that support for public education has turned a corner.
About 16,000 people have signed up to participate in the rally, according to its organizer, the Indiana State Teachers Association. Half of the state’s public school districts have canceled classes for the event — including the two largest, Fort Wayne and Indianapolis Public Schools.
The massive Statehouse gathering coincides with Organization Day, when House and Senate members take the oath of office and choose leaders for the 2020 legislative session. The session will get under way in earnest in January.
Teachers have a lot of beefs with the General Assembly, but the ISTA is keeping it simple for now. It wants lawmakers to:
- Invest in boosting teacher pay, possibly using some of the state’s $410 million budget surplus.
- Hold schools and teachers harmless from results of the new ILEARN assessments, which produced much lower proficiency rates than the previous ISTEP exam.
- Repeal a new rule that requires teachers to spend 15 hours in business externships to renew their teaching licenses.
One analysis found that Hoosier teachers ranked last in the country for pay increases since 2002. A study produced for the ISTA found Indiana would have to increase K-12 spending by nearly $1.5 billion a year to catch up with surrounding states. But teacher concerns go beyond money. A survey of educators by Chalkbeat Indiana found objections to overuse of standardized tests and a theme that teachers aren’t respected.
More than anything, a big turnout Tuesday sends a message that teachers can be a force in Indiana’s 2020 elections, when voters will choose a governor, all the House members and half the Senate.
Teachers, along with their friends, neighbors and relatives, swung the 2012 Indiana election for Indiana superintendent of public instruction, when longshot Glenda Ritz upset incumbent Tony Bennett. And teacher support was key to Democratic victories in recent governor’s races in Kentucky and Louisiana.
Indiana’s elected officials will do well to pay attention Tuesday.