Five things to watch for in wake of Red For Ed teacher rally

Tuesday’s Red For Ed rally at the Indiana Statehouse saw thousands of teachers attend, but what happens next?

The one-day demonstration ended without any promises from lawmakers, but the state’s top Republican legislator suggested the massive gathering could lead to changes down the road.

“We get it,” said House Speaker Brian Bosma, addressing teachers from the House chamber. “We get that you’re frustrated. We get that you are concerned.”

The rally marked the state’s first large-scale demonstration amid a wave of teacher activism nationwide. Indiana State Police said more than 5,000 people were inside the Statehouse, but that number did not include the people amassed outside. The Indiana State Teachers Association, the state’s largest union, estimated around 20,000 teachers attended, and said that 146 school districts across the state canceled classes.

The state teachers union is asking the General Assembly to do three things: allocate part of the state’s more than $2 billion surplus to schools; pass a hold-harmless provision to protect teachers and schools from any negative consequences related to low 2019 ILEARN test scores; and repeal new licensing requirements mandating teachers to do 15 hours of professional development related to their community’s workforce needs.

Teachers who were there also demanded higher pay, smaller class sizes, less standardized testing and more respect, among other things.

It remains to be seen how many of their requests will find support among the General Assembly’s Republican supermajority, especially when the state’s budget is already set through 2020. Here are five things to watch as the story unfolds:

1. Lawmakers will consider decoupling teacher evaluations from test scores.

Bosma said lawmakers need to take a “hard look” at separating teacher assessments from test scores. Currently, standardized test scores factor into teacher’s rating, which affects whether they are eligible for raises or bonuses.

Education advocates, including State Superintendent of Public Instruction Jennifer McCormick, have called for decoupling the two for years, arguing that the standardized test in Indiana has become too high-stakes. But until now, the idea has not seen support from lawmakers, such as Bosma, who backed previous education reforms aimed at increasing accountability.

“Maybe that doesn’t make as much sense as it seemed to 20 years ago,” the House Speaker said during a legislative preview Indiana chamber hosted on Monday.

2. A hold-harmless provision is expected to pass quickly.

Passing a hold-harmless provision to protect teacher evaluations and school’s A-F grades from potential negative consequences of low ILEARN scores remains among lawmaker’s top priorities, Bosma said Tuesday. Calls for the one-year exemption started pouring in from schools and state leaders—including Gov. Eric Holcomb—even before the 2019 scores were publicly released. And districts were already given permission by the state to finish teacher evaluations with 2018 grades so they can get their bonuses on time.

The General Assembly is expected to formally pass hold-harmless legislation quickly after the session starts in January.

3. The budget may be opened, which would also create the opportunity for increasing education funding.

It’s not yet clear if lawmakers will need to open the budget this year. Bosma previously said he does not want to, but also that he is interested in using some of the state’s $2 billion surplus. Democrat lawmakers argue that would mean opening the budget—which could mean putting some of that money toward education.

The Indiana teachers union, ISTA, wants the state to give schools $75 million of the estimated $400 million the state will bring in this year above its expected revenue, President Keith Gambill has told Chalkbeat.

Republican lawmakers, however, don’t seem interested in using the surplus for education. Bosma and Rep. Bob Behning, chairman of the House Education Committee, have both said using a one-time influx of cash would be irresponsible because that revenue stream could not be sustained going forward. Bosma said he wants to use the surplus to pay down the state’s long-term debts.

4. Lawmakers may dial back on the list of required training for teachers, including 15-hour “externships.”

ISTA is asking lawmakers to repeal a new licensing requirement that has teachers doing unpaid “externships” in local businesses to get 15 hours of professional development related to their community’s workforce needs.

At a legislative preview on Monday, Bosma said he sees the value in the requirement for high school teachers, but questioned whether it was worthwhile for elementary school teachers—signaling his openness to changing it.

Bosma said Tuesday that the General Assembly should also revisit the long list of state-required trainings for teachers. Earlier this month, a state committee charged the department of education with recommending how to consolidate or trim the list.

5. Indiana could see more action from teachers.

Multiple speakers at Tuesday’s rally called on teachers to continue the momentum.

“This is Day One of many days,” McCormick said when addressing teachers on Tuesday. “This can’t start and end today.”

Becky Pringle, vice president of the National Education Association, called on teachers to do “whatever it takes.” Meanwhile, Randi Weingarten, National President of the American Federation of Teachers, said Indiana’s teacher were experiencing the same anger she’s seen in other states where teachers went on strike for better funding or higher pay, such as West Virginia, Kentucky, and Oklahoma.

No one called for Indiana teachers to strike—Weingarten called that a “last resort”—but they did encourage them to meet with lawmakers, write letters, and turn out for the 2020 gubernatorial election.

Chalkbeat is a not-for-profit news site covering educational change in public schools.

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4 thoughts on “Five things to watch for in wake of Red For Ed teacher rally

  1. 1. More whining

    2. McCormick will appear on the Democratic ticket in 2020

    3. A return of the incompetent Glenda Ritz?

    4. I$TA will push for a strike

    5. The I$TA will remain the most corrupt organization in Indiana

  2. Some that are skeptical of teacher dissatisfaction question many teachers commitment to the career based on hours worked. In Indiana there are 180 school days per year. It is likely some teachers work more than 180 days, but non-teaching career positions are typically based on 260 days per year, and if you receive two weeks annual vacation which is very typical, it is 250 days per year. Hourly it works out to 1,440 hours per year for teachers vs. 2,000 hours per year for most with a full-time position with two weeks vacation.

    Teachers working 1,440 hours per year are considered by most employers outside of the public school systems to be “part-time employees” as most employers require workers to average a minimum of 32 hours per week to be eligible for full-time benefits, which equates to 1,600 hours per year. Some would argue that the best description for those in the teaching professions, is “seasonal workers”.

    Teachers in Indiana have very competitive retirement plans, funded by the Indiana State Teachers Retirement Fund. Most other part-time employees do not receive retirement benefits unless they “self-fund” a retirement savings plan with their regular earnings.

    Teachers and teachers unions often quote statistics about minimum annual salaries for new teachers, but neglect to factor in or account for the reduced number of hours teachers are bound to by their contracts that are negotiated by the teachers union (ISTA). To some this seems to be disingenuous, or at the very least, lacking transparency.

    Another factor that exacerbates the cause of teachers wanting increased compensation is an additional demand to eliminate any metric to assess teacher performance at the same time increased funding for salaries is demanded. This completely flies in the face of work and career conditions for most of everyone else, where compensation is tied very closely to performance and the work product that is delivered to the employer.

  3. Among the 50 states, Indiana ranks 37th in terms of average teacher pay and 12th in terms of the lowest cost of living. If a COL factor was applied to the states’ teacher salary averages, would assume Indiana ranks well into the upper half. Not saying that Indiana teachers do not deserve more pay, however, this issue is not as simple as the media makes it sound. The issue needs to be put more into perspective. Unfortunately, the media is not doing this for us.

  4. Time to eliminate public schools altogether except for those in need (and make it fee-based instead of tax-based). Then for the rest of us, let the free market reign and let teachers earn their worth, be held accountable according to standards set by the school and its customers, not the state, and allow parents to use what would otherwise be tax money to send their kids wherever they want.