INDIANAPOLIS – It was a sea of red at the Indiana Statehouse on Tuesday as thousands of teachers vented their ire at state lawmakers – pleading for more money and less bureaucracy.
“We hope to hear from the lawmakers that they are ready to take bold action,” said Keith Gambill, a middle school teacher from Evansville and president of the Indiana State Teachers Association. “If they don't there's an election coming in November 2020.”
More than 5,000 Hoosiers entered the building to show their support but thousands more stood out in chilly November weather carrying signs, drumming on buckets and wearing every kind of red clothing imaginable on Red for Ed day.
Lawmakers were there for the ceremonial start of the 2020 session, and teachers used that opportunity to advocate for higher teacher pay, less testing and licensing changes.
About 20,000 Hoosiers registered before and during the event but it was unclear how many showed up.
One person who didn't attend was Gov. Eric Holcomb – who was in Florida at the Republican Governors Association meetings.
Gambill said he missed a “golden opportunity” to spend time with dedicated teachers.
Lt. Gov. Suzanne Crouch said Holcomb had his trip on the calendar for almost a year but he supports teachers. She met with educators in her office and in the hallways throughout the day.
“I'm excited about it and I know the governor is excited about it. He welcomes their participation,” she said. “Often times we don't feel like people are involved in the process and so to have people engaged in the process and actually have taken time to come here to participate and let their voices be heard to me is very hopeful.”
Both sides had dueling facts and figures throughout the day, and even dueling signs and poster boards.
Educators said the state controls the purse strings and despite increases, lawmakers aren't providing sufficient funding for teacher pay, which lags the Midwest and the nation.
But GOP House Speaker Brian Bosma said some studies don't adjust for cost of living. He also noted an increase in the number of administrative staff in schools at the same time the number of Indiana public school students and teachers dropped.
Gambill said the districts are doing the best they can with the resources provided and the state needs to invest more into education instead of putting it in the surplus.
“Pitting administrators against teachers and educators has to stop,” he said. “It's a distraction created by the legislature to try to divide educators.”
Bosma said in the past 10 years the legislature has provided an increase of funding to K-12 education of 18% but local districts haven't passed that on. During his speech on the House floor he was interrupted several times by boos and yelling from the hall.
“This is America and it's a democracy with free speech; ... I fault no one for being here and expressing their opinions,” he said, adding the interruptions and chanting “probably wasn't a positive but no harm no foul.”
Senate President Pro Tem Rodric Bray was clear that there would be no movement on teacher pay because lawmakers are waiting for long-term recommendations from a task force assigned to study the topic for 2021.
“You are not going to see us talk a lot about finding more dollars for schools because it's not a budget year,” he said.
Bray said both the House and Senate are ready to pass a hold-harmless provision immediately that protects schools and teachers from the consequences of a drop in test scores due to a new test being implemented.
Leslie Clark, an AP history teacher at Carroll High School, drove from Fort Wayne because she believes state rules tying testing to teacher pay and school funding are driving people away from teaching. She comes from a long line of educators, including five children who earned degrees in education.
“The emphasis on the amount of testing of a measurement of student learning ... is replacing time we spent inspiring (students),” she said.
Then there is the issue of a 15-hour requirement for teachers to learn about local employment needs as part of licensing that was passed this year with little public discussion.
Bray said it might be wise to tweak the law because kindergarten teachers don't need to be dialed in to local workforce needs the same as high school teachers. But he pointed out it is not an externship requirement as teachers claim. It can also be accomplished through use of webinars or local employers coming to schools to speak to teachers.
Jenna Thiele, a biology teacher at Northrop High School, said it needs to be repealed because it is burdensome and unnecessary.
“(Lawmakers) don't think people can teach without this extra experience,” Thiele said. “No one else (in the workforce) has to go work in a school.”