It’s billed as Red for Ed Day of Action at the Indiana Statehouse in Indianapolis.
Thousands of state public school teachers, decked out in red, converged on the capital Tuesday to lobby for better pay and other education issues.
So many teachers are attending the rally that more than 100 school districts in Indiana canceled classes Tuesday. That includes more than a dozen districts in Northwest Indiana such as Hammond, East Chicago, Whiting, Michigan City, Griffith, Highland, Portage and Gary.
Here are five things to know about Tuesday’s action by teachers:
Who’s taking part
Thousands of educators from Indiana’s two main teachers unions will participate. More than half of the state’s 300 school districts will be affected by the one-day demonstration, and half a million students will be out of class.
The teachers taking part are from big districts in Indianapolis, Evansville, South Bend and Hammond, as well as small rural districts
National American Federation of Teachers President Randi Weingarten and Becky Pringle, vice president of the National Education Association, plan to attend the rally.
What the teachers want
Union leaders say teachers are frustrated over getting little or no pay hikes in the past decade while facing additional demands on student testing and professional development requirements.
Indiana Democrats and teachers unions panned the new state budget approved by Republicans in April that boosted base school spending by 2.5% each of the next two years. Republican Gov. Eric Holcomb and GOP lawmakers touted the plan as making strides toward improving teacher pay.
Indiana’s average starting salary for a teacher in 2017-2018 was $35,943, ranking 37th in the nation, according to the National Education Association.
“Younger teachers are having to work two or three jobs just to make ends meet,” said GlenEva Dunham, president of the Gary Teachers Union and American Federation of Teachers Indiana.
The demonstrators are also pushing for a rollback in the use of student test scores to evaluate teachers and schools after lower scores on the state’s new ILEARN standardized exam taken last spring. When the results came in, fewer than half of the students tested were on track to graduate ready for college or a career. The scores are tied to teacher evaluations and can affect pay.
“Children are more than test scores,” Pam Sanders, a special education instructor at Morton High School in Hammond, said at the rally Tuesday. “Testing puts them all under one umbrella. One test does not account for what a kid is.”
How this fits with nationwide activism
Red for Ed is a national movement that aims to gain greater funding and support for public educators. Tuesday’s rally comes during American Education Week.
The Indiana rally comes amid a wave of teacher activism that began last year in West Virginia and spread to other states, including Kentucky, Oklahoma and Arizona.
How school districts are responding
Some districts that canceled classes are supportive of what the teachers are doing. Griffith Schools Superintendent Michele Riise said she understands why teachers want higher pay.
“Indiana is near the bottom for pay for teachers. As an educator, that makes us feel that we’re not highly regarded,” she said.
Dunham said districts are having to make tough choices on whether to raise teacher salaries or pay for other needs.
“They have to decide whether to give us raises or put a roof on the building, and they shouldn’t have to make that choice,” she said.
The timing of Red for Ed Day
Teachers from Hammond, Indiana talk about why they are in Indianapolis today for #RedForEd Action Day. (L-r) Natalie Bevil, Marie Herring, Debbie Lueken, Maria Kaminsky. (WBEZ Chicago) pic.twitter.com/WjaV09gtLP— Michael Puente (@MikePuenteNews) November 19, 2019
Tuesday is what’s known as Organization Day for Hoosier legislators. The day is considered the kickoff of organization meetings before the 2020 legislative session that begins in January.
Gov. Holcomb is not expected to be at the Statehouse for the big rally. His office said he will be in Florida for a Republican Governors Association conference that was scheduled months ago.
Holcomb has declined to criticize school districts or teachers for the rally and school closings, and said he was waiting for a teacher pay commission he appointed in February to make recommendations on increasing salaries by the end of 2020.
The Associated Press contributed.