Big Indiana teachers rally prompting many school closings

Some school district officials say so many teachers are taking personal time off for the Nov. 19 rally that they wouldn’t be able to find enough substitute teachers to cover classrooms.

Posted: Nov 7, 2019 1:08 PM
Updated: Nov 7, 2019 6:14 PM

INDIANAPOLIS (AP) — Tens of thousands of Indiana students are having a school day called off as their teachers make plans to attend a union-organized Statehouse rally that could signal an increase in educator activism regarding teacher pay and other issues.

Some school district officials say with so many teachers requesting personal time off for the Nov. 19 rally, they decided to shut their doors because they wouldn’t be able to find enough substitute teachers to cover classrooms. But they also say they support the push by teachers for a bigger boost in school funding.

Leaders of the state’s two main teacher unions project that 5,000 or more teachers could attend the Statehouse lobbying effort on the day that members of the Republican-dominated Legislature are gathering for organizational meetings ahead of their 2020 session that starts in early January.

More than 35 of the state’s nearly 300 school districts had canceled classes by Thursday afternoon or were having students work online from home, according to teacher union counts. Those ranged from large urban districts in Indianapolis, Evansville, South Bend and Hammond to small rural districts such as North Miami Community Schools, which has 900 students.

Indiana State Teachers Association President Keith Gambill said many of the union’s members are frustrated because they have seen little or no pay raises in a decade but face additional demands from the state. He said this is despite them writing letters, attending hometown meetings with lawmakers and holding Statehouse rallies on Saturdays.

“For too many legislators that message just hasn’t gotten through to them,” Gambill said. “In a state where over 90% of Hoosier families send their child to a public school, we have to do better by our public schools.”

Large protests have come elsewhere amid a wave of teacher activism that began last year in West Virginia and spread to other states, including Kentucky, Oklahoma and Arizona.

Indiana Democrats and teacher 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 legislative leaders touted the plan as making strides toward improving teacher pay. But they faced criticism for not directing some of the state’s $2 billion in cash reserves toward schools and for a funding distribution plan that increased traditional school district funding by about 2% a year, while charter schools saw 10% more money and private school voucher funding increased 9% the first budget year and about 5.5% the second year.

School districts canceling classes will have to make up the school day to meet the state’s 180-day requirement, with some already saying they will have classes on a day set aside in case of a snow day.

The widespread school closures might not even help the teachers’ cause as lawmakers don’t typically take up big money matters during sessions after they’ve approved the two-year state budget, said Betsy Wiley, president of the advocacy group Institute for Quality Education, which backs Indiana’s charter school and private school voucher programs.

“Whether you support or don’t support the cause, I don’t think it’s right to close school and not provide education to those kids and inconvenience those students and families on that day,” Wiley said.

State schools Superintendent Jennifer McCormick, who has split from many fellow Republicans on education policy issues, is backing the rally dubbed “Red for Ed Action Day.”

“Their mobilization effort demonstrates the need for legislative action in regard to adequate and equitable K-12 funding impacting educators and support staff compensation, as this is an issue that cannot be solved at the local level alone,” McCormick said in a statement. “Being the 50th state out of 50 in salary increases since 2002 is not acceptable.”

The governor’s office said in a statement that local school districts could decide what is best for their students and that Holcomb has made finding ways for long-term teacher pay improvement a top priority.

“He will continue to seek innovative ideas to ensure Indiana attracts and retains top teachers, and our students receive the best education,” the statement said.

Tim Tahara, superintendent of the Concord Community Schools near Elkhart in northern Indiana, said he decided to cancel Nov. 19 classes after more than 100 teachers notified the district they would be taking the day off, which far exceeded the number of available substitute teachers.

Tahara said he supported the teachers’ goals and didn’t expect a backlash from parents over the school closure.

“I think by and large our parents agree that this is just an important job helping raise our children and making them productive citizens, so why can’t teachers get more pay for what they do?” he said.

The teacher unions 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. They also want the repeal of new license requirements adopted this year requiring teachers to log 15 hours of professional development regarding the needs of local employers.

“For last year, easily, teachers have been saying we need to take some action,” said Sally Sloan, executive director for the American Federation of Teachers Indiana. “We think this is just the beginning.”

Indiana Coronavirus Cases

Data is updated nightly.

Cases: 751242

Reported Deaths: 13795
CountyCasesDeaths
Marion1032931788
Lake556911009
Allen41692692
St. Joseph36990565
Hamilton36588417
Elkhart29398461
Tippecanoe22901226
Vanderburgh22556400
Porter19356325
Johnson18471389
Hendricks17682317
Clark13226195
Madison13149344
Vigo12614253
LaPorte12419221
Monroe12207176
Delaware10966198
Howard10321225
Kosciusko9630121
Hancock8576146
Bartholomew8169157
Warrick7860156
Floyd7811180
Grant7242179
Wayne7162201
Boone6966103
Morgan6761141
Dubois6218118
Marshall6209116
Cass6016110
Henry5900110
Dearborn589878
Noble581488
Jackson509076
Shelby501496
Lawrence4742122
Gibson444894
Clinton442355
Harrison441875
DeKalb439885
Montgomery438090
Whitley406543
Huntington402681
Steuben400159
Miami395269
Jasper388054
Knox375991
Putnam372960
Wabash361983
Ripley347170
Adams345555
Jefferson335886
White331953
Daviess3033100
Wells295281
Decatur289992
Greene286885
Fayette284864
Posey273835
LaGrange273072
Scott270156
Clay267148
Washington246036
Randolph244783
Jennings235349
Spencer234531
Starke228058
Fountain220948
Sullivan214643
Owen211858
Fulton202942
Jay200932
Carroll193620
Orange188255
Perry187237
Rush175926
Vermillion174844
Franklin170335
Tipton166246
Parke149416
Pike138234
Blackford136232
Pulaski120647
Newton113936
Brown104243
Crawford102516
Benton101714
Martin91715
Warren84015
Switzerland8148
Union72810
Ohio57911
Unassigned0420

Ohio Coronavirus Cases

Data is updated nightly.

Cases: 1108902

Reported Deaths: 20166
CountyCasesDeaths
Franklin1287491467
Cuyahoga1158082211
Hamilton814091250
Montgomery525571043
Summit484351001
Lucas43359820
Butler39018606
Stark33338929
Lorain25675505
Warren24595303
Mahoning22376603
Lake21211388
Clermont20124253
Delaware18856136
Licking16663222
Fairfield16576204
Trumbull16551482
Medina15612271
Greene15284248
Clark14237306
Wood13292200
Portage13251215
Allen11914239
Richland11607211
Miami10849225
Wayne9146223
Columbiana9034230
Muskingum8906135
Pickaway8664122
Tuscarawas8650250
Marion8642138
Erie8056165
Ashtabula7161179
Hancock6999132
Ross6945161
Geauga6838151
Scioto6534106
Belmont6157174
Union584649
Lawrence5732102
Jefferson5679158
Huron5546122
Sandusky5442126
Darke5420129
Seneca5350128
Washington5320109
Athens523960
Auglaize502187
Mercer487385
Shelby476895
Knox4572112
Madison444366
Ashland435797
Putnam4336103
Defiance432399
Fulton432174
Crawford4040110
Brown402461
Logan387677
Preble3856105
Clinton379166
Ottawa373681
Highland359865
Williams348278
Champaign344859
Guernsey324953
Jackson318254
Perry297350
Morrow291840
Fayette285450
Hardin275365
Henry273467
Holmes2702101
Coshocton269060
Van Wert247264
Adams243256
Pike242835
Gallia240750
Wyandot234556
Hocking220563
Carroll197348
Paulding176542
Meigs148440
Monroe136344
Noble136239
Harrison114138
Morgan109624
Vinton85717
Unassigned03
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