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Indiana teachers unions hope Congress helps states

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The leader of Indiana's largest teachers union says a proposal to help states avoid school cuts could help save as many as 7,200 jobs at the state's public schools if it makes it through Congress.

The federal money used for the proposal — up to $300 million for next year — wouldn't be a permanent fix, said Nate Schnellenberger, president of the Indiana State Teachers Association. Instead, he said it would help schools until the economy improves and state tax revenues rebound.

"It's not something that's sustainable for the long term. We hope it's a bridge to a better economy," said Schnellenberger, whose group represents more than 90 percent of Indiana's school districts.

If Congress approves up to $300 million for Indiana schools, he said it could save as many as 7,200 public school employee jobs, including those of Indiana teachers, teaching assistants and bus drivers.

Schnellenberger said about 5,000 to 6,000 teaching jobs will disappear this year and next without federal help. He said he's visited two Indiana schools that have seen a 20 percent reduction in their staffs, and a third school with a 25 percent staff reduction.

"The impact will be felt for years," he said.

Indiana Department of Education spokeswoman Lauren Auld said the agency has not taken a position on the federal bill and won't until a more final draft becomes available.

Lisa Koester, an educational diagnostician in southern Indiana, said she has personally suffered because of education cuts and hopes money is made available to save jobs.

"You're looking at a woman who is too young to retire. I'm 52," said Koester, whose school job was eliminated. "I have no source of income other than unemployment. I lose my medical benefits August 30. I have so much experience — 31 years experience — I'm at the top of the salary scale, so I'm not one who's going to be picked up."

Marisa Graham, vice president of the Anderson Federation of Teachers, said her colleagues are facing larger classes, fewer supplies and less pay because of the drop in tax revenue.

She said the federal proposal to give states more money to pay for more teachers is essential.

"It's our only hope, quite honestly, to this horrible situation we find ourselves in," Graham said. "We need this legislation to pass to reverse the things that are happening."

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