Tuesday is not the best day for any teacher to travel to the Statehouse for a protest rally and march.
It's a school day, which means some teachers must use a personal day and miss out on a mid-semester instructional day. More than a third of the state's 289 districts, including Fort Wayne Community Schools, have canceled classes or designated the day for online learning. Other districts will struggle to stay open with a severely reduced teaching staff. Some teachers don't want to disappoint the parents and public education supporters who have backed their schools in referendum votes. Many will worry about how their absence will affect students whose parents are scrambling to find child care.
But public school teachers have good reason for a show of force at the General Assembly's annual Organization Day: It's the only way to get lawmakers' attention.
When teachers packed the Statehouse on a Saturday in early March, only Democratic legislators – no Republicans – were there to listen. But the effort, combined with data showing that Indiana ranked 50th in the nation for increases in teacher pay between 2002 and 2017, prompted legislative leaders to increase education spending in the biennial budget, including $37.5 million in new benefits for charter and voucher schools.
If lawmakers thought additional funding would appease teachers, they were wrong. Teachers' dissatisfaction is about far more than paychecks. It's about the legislature's insistence on a failed and punitive standardized testing program. It's about policies that favor charter schools and taxpayer-supported private and parochial schools. It's about baseless licensing requirements and the general disrespect the General Assembly has shown to the teaching profession.
When the state's latest ILEARN testing debacle threatened to mark half of the state's public schools as failing, some top lawmakers tried to paint themselves as heroes, stepping up to call for suspending the very sanctions they've insisted on attaching to student test scores. But none have called for an end to the test-and-punish demands they put in place.
Gov. Eric Holcomb's Next Level Teacher Compensation Commission, which includes no teachers, met for months behind closed doors. When the panel finally invited public input, it scheduled a series of statewide meetings after school resumed in August. The northern Indiana meeting was in Elkhart on a Tuesday night – about two weeks after all Allen County teachers returned to class. The commission's recommendations aren't due until shortly before the 2021 legislative session – when Election Day has passed for Holcomb and the Republican legislative supermajority.
As of Friday, more than 14,000 people had registered to participate in the Red for Ed Action Day organized by the Indiana State Teachers Association.
Legislators can't complain about a disruption. They never raised questions when hundreds of students and teachers from voucher schools traveled to the Statehouse for the annual School Choice celebration, and they have cost all students countless hours of learning with unnecessary testing demands.
Tuesday is not an ideal day for public school teachers and supporters to make their case. But lawmakers gave them no other option.