Indiana teachers are pushing to regain the right to bargain collectively for working conditions, which the state legislature took away a decade ago. At a news conference Monday, Indiana State Teachers Association officials called on lawmakers to support bargaining on class size limits, prep time and safety conditions.
ISTA President Keith Gambill said the COVID-19 pandemic, now impacting a third school year, has made it urgent for the state to address teachers’ working conditions. “Our educators, already overburdened, are facing unsustainable levels of stress and stress-related illness,” he said.
Gambill said poor working conditions and a lack of respect have caused many educators to retire early or leave the field, contributing to statewide shortages. An Indiana State University survey found that 96% of Indiana schools are experiencing teacher shortages.
Prodded by then-Gov. Mitch Daniels, the legislature voted in 2011 to limit teacher collective bargaining to pay and benefits, such as health insurance. The measure was part of a package of K-12 education laws that also included the creation of a private school voucher program and an expansion of charter schools.
The ISTA on Monday bolstered its call for expanded bargaining with results of a survey that found an overwhelming majority of Hoosier voters said teachers should be able to bargain over working conditions. At least three-fourths of respondents said teachers should be able to bargain for health and safety protections, class size limits, class-preparation time and work hours.
Support for expanded bargaining was across the board, according to the survey, with relatively little variation by race and ethnicity, income level and political persuasion: 81% of Democrats and 71% of Republicans said teachers should be able to bargain for working conditions.
Also taking part in the news conference were ISTA members Jessica Ramirez of Elkhart, Jenny Whitaker of Indianapolis and Lori Young of Evansville. They emphasized what’s become an ISTA mantra in talking about bargaining: Teachers’ working conditions are students’ learning conditions.
“Improving working conditions for teachers sems like a no-brainer in a time when teacher shortages are severe,” said Ramirez, a special-education teacher at North Side Middle School in Elkhart.
Gambill said the ISTA will also work to protect and advance gains in teacher pay. Some 212 of the 290 Indiana school districts have met a state goal of paying beginning teachers at least $40,000 a year, according to an ISTA map that tracks wages. But average teacher pay in many districts is well short of the goal of $60,000, according to Indianapolis Star reporting.
“More work is needed, but clearly we are making good progress,” Gambill said.
Black lives do matter
Gambill pushed back against an opinion issued last week by Indiana Attorney General Todd Rokita that Black Lives Matter signs shouldn’t be posted in schools. While Rokita said BLM is “a political organization,” Gambill suggested teachers post the signs to tell all students they are welcome.
“Currently our educators don’t all look like our students,” Gambill said, a reference to the fact that 93% of Indiana teachers but only two-thirds of K-12 students are white, according to state data.
“Our students need to recognize that they are seen, and they are heard,” he said. “We want to make sure we are always able to create that welcoming space.”