‘Great day’ for teachers

Thousands of teachers rocked the Indiana Statehouse at Tuesday’s Red for Ed Action Day, demanding higher salaries, less testing and a little R-E-S-P-E-C-T for their profession.

It was an impressive show of force. Now the question is whether educators can keep up the pressure through the upcoming session of the General Assembly and the 2020 election campaign.

A teacher holds a sign at the Red for Ed rally.“It’s a very steep uphill climb,” said Joel Hand, lobbyist for the Indiana Coalition for Public Education. “An event like this is a first step in the right direction, but it needs to be sustained.”

The Indiana State Teachers Association, which organized the rally, is calling on lawmakers to invest more in K-12 schools, hold teachers and schools harmless for lower scores on the state’s new ILEARN assessment, and repeal a controversial externship requirement for teacher license renewal.

Sign-carrying teachers and their supporters packed the south lawn of the Statehouse, chanting and beating on plastic buckets, then spilled into the streets in a march around state government buildings. Five thousand of them entered the Statehouse, jamming the South Rotunda where speakers included Randi Weingarten, president of the American Federation of Teachers, and Becky Pringle, vice president of the National Education Association.

“I’m thrilled about the turnout here today,” said ISTA President Keith Gambill. “It goes to show that we’ve done everything we can, and now we need to take this next step.”

Gambill said ISTA members will keep pushing for the group’s priorities in future Statehouse visits and meetings with legislators. While the legislature won’t pass a state budget in 2020, he said it could tap the state’s $2.3 billion in reserves – and a $410 million annual surplus this year – to boost school funding. And the ILEARN and externship proposals won’t cost money.

He said he hopes lawmakers will understand and support the teachers’ demands. “If they don’t,” he said, “I think people will be engaged to find candidates who do, and work to elect them.”

Republicans hold super majorities in both the House and Senate in Indiana, and gerrymandered districts make it tough for challengers to take on incumbents. Teachers’ unions have had limited success in supporting pro-public education candidates for the legislature in recent elections. But teacher-aided victories by candidates for governor in Kentucky and Louisiana have given them hope.

As the House and Senate convened Tuesday for Organization Day, teachers crowded the lobby, listening to the proceedings and periodically breaking into loud chants that could be heard in the chambers. “Fund our schools!” they shouted. And “Try harder!” They booed lustily when House Speaker Brian Bosma, recounting recent changes in education, mentioned ILEARN.

State officials mostly rolled out the welcome mat for the rally. Legislators, both Republicans and Democrats, met and posed for photos with teachers from their home districts. Bosma lauded teachers as “the most important professionals to our state’s future” and praised them for rallying for their cause.

But he deflected concerns about education funding, insisting state government has been generous and blaming low teacher salaries on an increase in non-teaching jobs in schools.

Gov. Eric Holcomb, in Florida for a meeting of the National Governor’s Association, issued a statement saying he was committed to “sustainable solutions” to raising teacher pay. He’s hanging his hat on a teacher compensation commission, which is scheduled to release suggestions in late 2020.

That’s conveniently after the next elections.

As the rally wrapped up, Indiana Superintendent of Public Instruction Jennifer McCormick posted the following to her Twitter account:

“Great day today, Indiana. Now … it’s about the tomorrows.”

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