INDIANAPOLIS – More than 100 school districts will be closed Tuesday as teachers and public education supporters are expected to flood the Indiana Statehouse on the day lawmakers return to ceremonially begin the 2020 legislative session.
More than 13,000 people – the majority of them teachers – have registered to attend the Indiana State Teachers Association’s Red for Ed Action Day. The state’s largest teachers union called on its members to take a personal day to lobby state lawmakers for better pay, among other things.
So many teachers requested the day off that districts across the state decided to close or call for an “e-learning day,” when students stay home and get school assignments online. So far, 117 districts have opted to close. Others are to make a decision in the coming days.
More than half a million kids will be out of school, about 45% of the state's public school students.
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“Public education is under attack, and our teachers need support,” said Derek Arrowood, superintendent of Hamilton Heights Schools.
The district said it made the difficult decision to cancel classes to allow its teachers to join their colleagues at the Statehouse and will be represented at the event by teachers, administrators and school board members. The day will be made up later in the school year.
“We hope our lawmakers see and hear our strong, collective voice because we have reached a critical crossroad in public education,” said Jennifer Luce, a teacher and president of the Hamilton Heights Teachers Association. “We are supported by our board, administrators and community. We need that same type of support from our legislators.”
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The response is beyond what organizers expected, said Jennifer Smith-Margraf, a Spanish teacher at Lafayette Jefferson High School and Indiana State Teacher Association (ISTA) vice president. No one takes the decision to miss a day of school or cancel class lightly, she said, but teachers are frustrated. They tried other ways of getting their message across, she said.
“We’ve been doing all the things we’ve been told we need to do in order to communicate this to the state legislators,” she said. “They just clearly have not been heard.”
ISTA has three goals for the upcoming legislative session. It wants to see the state make significant progress toward raising teacher pay. Indiana lags neighboring states in average pay and has some of the slowest wage growth of all teachers nationwide.
Senate President Pro Tempore Rodric Bray, R-Martinsville, said last year’s budget showed lawmakers’ commitment to public schools and the educators who work in them. The budget included an annual increase in education spending of 2.5%, but many teachers were disappointed that lawmakers didn’t do anything to specifically address pay.
That frustration bubbled up over the summer at public hearings hosted by Gov. Eric Holcomb’s commission on teacher pay. That group is supposed to deliver policy recommendations to the governor and lawmakers next year before the 2021 budget session.
Smith-Margraf said the state can’t wait that long.
“Teachers are leaving the profession,” she said. “Every year we wait, this problem is going to get worse.”
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This article originally appeared on Indianapolis Star: Red for Ed Action Day: Indiana teachers rally, school districts close