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NEWS-SENTINEL EDITORIAL: Thousands of teachers to rally at Statehouse Tuesday for much-needed higher pay

Whether you like it or not, teachers are going to be skipping school Tuesday by the thousands across Indiana to make their voices heard at the Statehouse, calling for higher teacher pay and changes to state rules on standardized testing and teaching licenses.

Maybe it’s inconvenient for parents. Maybe it’s inconvenient for students. Maybe it’s inconvenient for schools and districts. But Tuesday’s “Red for Ed Action Day” rally will be held as the Legislature gathers for Organization Day — a ceremonial day of meetings to organize ahead of the 2020 session of the General Assembly that begins in early January.

More than 13,000 people – mostly teachers – have registered to show up dressed in red for the Indiana State Teachers Association’s event.

It will be a timely act of teachers protesting and prodding — protesting that all their emails, postcards, phone calls and personal meetings with the Indiana legislators did not get the desired results in the 2019 legislative session, and prodding Indiana’s lawmakers who will be in Indianapolis Tuesday to realize teachers are serious about their demands and insist something must be done.

“We’ve been doing all of those things, and we haven’t seen resolution to these very serious issues that we have,” said Lafayette teacher Jennifer Smith-Margraf, the ISTA vice-president, in an Associated Press story last week.

The serious issues include the fact, pointed out by state Superintendent of Education Jennifer McCormick in a statement, that Indiana being “the 50th state out of 50 in salary increases since 2002 is not acceptable.”

It was the Republican-dominated Legislature that approved a new state budget in April that boosted base school spending by 2.5 percent each of the next two years. Republican Gov. Eric Holcomb and GOP legislative leaders praised the plan for making strides toward improving teacher pay.

But education advocacy groups this year estimated it would take a 9 percent funding increase to boost average teacher pay enough to match the midpoint of teachers pay in Indiana’s neighboring states. And legislators were criticized for not using some of the state’s $2 billion in cash reserves for schools.

The governor said he will be paying attention to the findings of a teacher pay commission he appointed in February, which is to make recommendations in 2020 on increasing salaries.

The needs of teachers have been put off far too long. That’s undoubtedly a big factor in the reason so many of our state’s public school teachers are expected to show up at the Statehouse Tuesday. Teacher unions are expecting 107 school districts representing some 460,000 students to be closed while their teachers attend the rally– that’s more than 40% of Indiana’s enrollment.

Fort Wayne Community Schools originally planned to stay open Tuesday, in spite of about 650 of its 1,825 teachers saying they wouldn’t show up for work. But Superintendent Wendy Robinson announced Friday the district’s schools would be closing after all “due to the overwhelming number of teachers who plan to attend the Red for Ed Rally in Indianapolis.”

Meanwhile, Gov. Holcomb said he respects the decisions of school districts who are calling off classes. But he isn’t promising any immediate action in response to Tuesday’s rally.

Besides teacher pay increases, unions are also asking for a rollback in the use of student test scores to evaluate teachers and schools after last spring’s low scores on the state’s new ILEARN standardized exam. And they want new license requirements repealed that legislators passed this year that require teachers to log 15 hours of professional development with local employers.

Holcomb said he has heard teachers “loud and clear,” according to AP, and said he would detail legislative proposals in early December.

We trust Tuesday’s “Red for Ed Day of Action” will remind the governor and our legislators that children, educators and public schools need to be one of their top priorities when the 2020 session convenes in January.

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