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Thousands take teachers message to Statehouse

About 16,000 teachers swarmed the statehouse Tuesday to turn up the heat for higher pay and higher school funding.

 

Teachers lined all four entrances to the statehouse on the ceremonial opening day of the 2020 legislative session, then rallied on the building's south lawn. Dozens of school systems across Indiana canceled classes for the day to accommodate teachers descending on the statehouse for "Go Red for Ed Day," calling for more school funding, including higher teacher pay.

 

The Indiana State Teachers Association argues Republican boasts of record education funding in the current budget still leave schools underfunded. ISTA president Keith Gambill says with funding for each district linked to enrollment, 60 school systems saw spending cuts in the new budget, while 96 more received increases of less than two-percent.

 

Governor Holcomb has asked legislators to approve 300-million dollars in one-time expenditures from a larger than expected state surplus. Teachers are calling on legislators to give schools a slice of the extra money too.

 

Legislators have already committed to one of the teachers' agenda items: granting a mulligan for scores on the first year of the new ILEARN test. But Gambill says test scores shouldn't be linked to teacher pay at all. And the union wants legislators to repeal a new requirement for teachers to spend an average of three hours a year working with businesses in their communities, to familiarize themselves with opportunities best suited to their students' skill sets. Gambill says there are better ways to connect business and schools, and argues the externship requirement will detract from teachers' focus on their classrooms.

 

A commission created by Holcomb is scheduled to offer recommendations next year on long-term ways to raise teacher pay, with an eye to putting those changes in place in the 2021 budget session. House Speaker Brian Bosma (R-Indianapolis) says he doesn't want to reopen the two-year budget in 2020, but acknowledges Holcomb's request opens the door for legislators to propose other additional spending. The difference, Bosma argues, is that Holcomb's requests wouldn't create an ongoing spending commitment for future budgets -- in fact, he says they'd actually free up money by paying off debt on projects legislators have already approved.

 

And while Bosma says he's glad to see teachers making their voices heard, he says they should look closer to home for an explanation of why salaries haven't risen more. Over the last decade, he says enrollment and teacher staffs have declined, while administrative jobs have grown by more than 30-percent.

 

Gambill accuses Bosma of trying to turn educators against each other. He says the real problem is that state funding has been inadequate.

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