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.
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. Continue reading →
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.
Indiana has fallen far behind neighboring states when it comes to funding K-12 education, according to a study released this week by the Indiana State Teachers Association.
It’s also fallen behind where it used to rank on education spending and teacher salaries. A few years ago, Indiana did a relatively good job of funding schools, but it has slipped markedly in state rankings.
And it will take a lot of money to catch up, the study finds. The state would have to increase K-12 spending by nearly $1.5 billion a year to catch up with surrounding states. It would have to boost spending by $3.3 billion a year to get back the ranking it enjoyed five years previously.
The U.S. Supreme Court is expected to hand down a decision this month in Janus v. AFSCME, a lawsuit that argues it’s a violation of the First Amendment for unions to collect “fair share fees” to offset the cost of representing employees who choose not to join up and pay dues.
If the court rules for Mark Janus, the Illinois government employee who brought the lawsuit, the result will be bad for public-sector unions in the 20-plus states that permit fair-share fees. But unions can still be effective if they work at it, according to officials with the Indiana State Teachers Association – which has been down this road before.
“We really focus on the greater work of the association: our ability, when we join together and speak collectively, to be in a better position to effect change,” said Keith Gambill, the association’s vice president. “It’s that collective action, that coming together, that really assists us in working to make learning conditions better for our students.”
Indiana used to have fair-share fees for teachers, but the state legislature outlawed them in 1995. The ISTA, which represents teachers in most of Indiana’s 291 school districts, lost members and revenue as a result, Gambill said. In the years that followed, it lost key battles over education funding and teacher bargaining rights. But it hasn’t been sidelined, and it’s still a player at the Statehouse – despite fighting uphill battles as a group aligned with Democrats in a state controlled by Republicans.
The ISTA also wants to put less emphasis on standardized tests, hold schools harmless for low grades until testing glitches are sorted out, improve teacher salaries and check the growth of private school vouchers and charter schools.
ISTA President Teresa Meredith answers questions.
“All of these proposals are part of putting kids first in Indiana, making kids our first priority,” said ISTA president Teresa Meredith, who unveiled the agenda Wednesday at the Statehouse while appealing to lawmakers to focus on the more than 90 percent of Indiana students who attend public schools.
A top ISTA priority, Meredith said, is helping schools implement “trauma-informed care,” which recognizes and responds to the impact that adverse childhood experiences – such as abuse or neglect, family violence, substance abuse, mental illness and divorce — can have on development. The ISTA wants the legislature to create a safe and supportive schools program and fund training grants for educators.
Meredith cited reports that 26 percent of children experience a traumatic event before age 4 and research that finds childhood trauma linked to poor school outcomes, later mental health and substance abuse issues and a shorter life span.Continue reading →
One figure really jumps out. Indiana teachers are making 13 percent less, adjusted for inflation, than they did a decade ago. That’s the second-worst record in the nation, ahead of only North Carolina, where real wages have fallen by 17 percent.
Teresa Meredith (courtesy ISTA)
Teresa Meredith, president of the Indiana State Teachers Association, said stagnant pay adds to challenges that teachers face from state-mandated evaluation systems, limits on collective bargaining and increased scrutiny for student test scores.
“It kind of feels like we’ve taken huge steps backward in time in a lot of things,” she said. “And compensation is just one of them.”
Meredith traces some of the salary deflation to the property tax caps that Indiana adopted in 2008. Responsibility for school funding shifted from local to state taxes, and state revenues took a big hit with the recession. In 2010 Gov. Mitch Daniels cut K-12 education funding by $300 million.
You might think they’re two sides of the same coin, each trying to push Indiana election policy. But there’s an important difference – in where their money comes from and whom they represent.
The ISTA contributes to election campaigns through its political arm, the Indiana Political Action Committee for Education. The committee gets nearly all its money from Indiana teachers and education support staff who voluntarily donate $24 a year. Hoosiers for Quality Education, on the other hand, gets most of its funding from a few wealthy people – many of them non-Hoosiers — who support a free-market approach of education.
Based on campaign finance reports that were posted recently, Hoosiers for Quality Education spent $690,000 on the 2014 elections, nearly all of it in contributions to Republican candidates and committees. I-PACE spent almost $1.3 million, most of it going to Democratic candidates. Continue reading →
Credit the Indiana Chamber of Commerce with being the first to remind us, this legislative season, of the immortal words of Henry Adams: “Politics, as a practice, whatever its professions, has always been the systematic organization of hatreds.”
How else does one explain the chamber’s current push to ban the practice of deducting union dues from the paychecks of Indiana school teachers? The Indianapolis Star reports Sunday that the business group has made the issue a top priority for the legislative session that starts in January.
Chamber President Kevin Brinegar tells the Star that government entities, such as school corporations, “shouldn’t be in the business of collecting union dues or, particularly, political contributions.” Maybe or maybe not, but isn’t that a decision that local elected officials can make?
And teachers can’t be required to join the union or pay representation fees, even though the unions must represent all teachers covered by local contracts, whether they’re union members are not. That “right to freeload” was written into law Continue reading →
They’re back. Hoosiers for Economic Growth, the political action committee that took credit for getting Indiana to enact sweeping education changes in 2011, is spending big money to ensure the Republican Party maintains or extends its majorities in the state House and Senate.
HEG spent three quarters of a million dollars in the pre-election period of April to October, according to its campaign finance report. Virtually all the money went to contributions to Republican legislative candidates. It gave exactly zero to Democrats.
Much of the group’s money, in turn, has come from the American Federation for Children, a national pro-voucher organization that shares an address with Terre Haute lawyer Jim Bopp, is run by conservative activists in Michigan and gets its money from East Coast hedge-fund managers and the Walton family.
Recall that HEG chairman Fred Klipsch boasted this summer that it and several affiliated groups spent $4.4 million to push through the 2011 education policies, including school vouchers, an expansion of charter schools, and performance-based evaluation and merit pay for teachers.
What kind of education votes in 2013 will HEG want in exchange for its campaign support? Continue reading →