I joined the enormous Red for Ed Action Day at the Statehouse and took away two important conclusions: The Indiana crisis in education has reached a turning point, and when Hoosiers unite, we are a powerful force.
Let's start with teachers. I spent hours learning from teachers from all over our state about the problems in their districts and why they had traveled, many leaving before dawn, to rally with their fellow teachers (decked out in their finest red sweaters, jackets, hats and scarves).
Without exception, the educators I spoke with were passionate professionals who wanted to do their best for their students. But they were all frustrated that calls for change were falling on deaf ears in the Indiana General Assembly and with our current governor's office.
Many of those I spoke with have advanced degrees but are not making enough to support their families without second jobs. They are now burdened by new, unnecessary licensing requirements. They are frustrated by standardized tests that do not accurately measure students and their progress and cost the state millions of dollars to administer.
In addition, far too often our teachers are acting as mental health counselors for their students because there are not enough social workers, psychologists and others to meet student needs. The fact that more than 15,000 educators converged on the Statehouse to form a “sea of red” is all the evidence required to know education has reached crisis mode.
The facts support our dissatisfaction.
In Indiana, beginning teachers, almost all after four years of college, make an average of about $36,000 per year. That is significantly lower than surrounding states and why too many teachers are leaving the profession or moving to a neighboring state.
I've taught students of medicine, pharmacy and nursing in hospitals around the country, including at Indiana University School of Medicine. So, I can tell you it's a difficult job. But, it's also a rewarding job when you see young minds blossoming.
We ask our teachers to work incredibly hard to give our children a stable foundation for the future. But that's hard to do when their own financial futures are rocky, and their attention is divided by a second job. We must do better. As your next governor, I pledge to work with the General Assembly to ensure more state funds make it into public schoolteacher pockets – and that unnecessary administrative burdens are removed.
I was energized at “Red for Ed” by the fact that so many Hoosiers still care deeply about effecting change. Articles and news stories often focus on American apathy, particularly among voters. I was thrilled to see and feel the passion of so many teachers banding together to make their voices heard. Protest is the cornerstone of democracy, and when so many voices unite, they are difficult to ignore.
I am with Indiana's teachers. The messages were loud and clear. Here's hoping our current lawmakers heard them, too.
Dr. Woody Myers, who served as Indiana state health commissioner, is a candidate for the Democratic nomination for governor.