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.

Confirmed Cases: 76522

Reported Deaths: 3086
CountyConfirmedDeaths
Marion16194731
Lake7742281
Elkhart495586
Allen4040163
St. Joseph361083
Hamilton2887104
Vanderburgh205313
Hendricks1943108
Cass18069
Johnson1794119
Porter136239
Clark130750
Tippecanoe124511
Madison103066
LaPorte93530
Howard92065
Kosciusko87212
Floyd82249
Bartholomew82147
Marshall79423
Monroe76732
Delaware76052
Vigo71411
Dubois71312
Boone69746
Noble69029
Hancock68839
Jackson5975
Warrick58830
Shelby56828
LaGrange56610
Grant53130
Dearborn51628
Morgan48934
Clinton4504
Henry41820
Wayne38810
White37711
Montgomery36021
Lawrence35727
Harrison35224
Decatur34232
Putnam3218
Daviess27920
Miami2772
Scott27310
Jasper2572
Greene25434
Franklin24715
DeKalb2384
Gibson2334
Jennings22812
Steuben2153
Ripley2138
Carroll2003
Fayette1957
Perry18713
Posey1800
Starke1807
Orange17824
Wells1782
Fulton1732
Wabash1715
Jefferson1662
Knox1640
Whitley1566
Tipton14912
Washington1441
Sullivan1411
Spencer1393
Clay1315
Huntington1273
Randolph1274
Newton12110
Adams1172
Owen1051
Jay920
Rush894
Pulaski821
Fountain762
Brown752
Blackford662
Ohio656
Benton640
Pike620
Vermillion590
Parke551
Switzerland530
Martin500
Crawford450
Union410
Warren241
Unassigned0208

Ohio Coronavirus Cases

Data is updated nightly.

Confirmed Cases: 104248

Reported Deaths: 3734
CountyConfirmedDeaths
Franklin18965531
Cuyahoga13869512
Hamilton9844259
Lucas5512326
Montgomery448998
Summit3667224
Butler303364
Marion294245
Mahoning2623256
Pickaway240042
Stark1904142
Warren185039
Lorain183177
Columbiana168360
Trumbull1563110
Fairfield143232
Delaware136519
Licking134551
Clark121315
Lake114642
Wood109058
Clermont96211
Medina95936
Miami86839
Tuscarawas79714
Allen79446
Portage77664
Greene73012
Mercer64113
Belmont62726
Richland61912
Erie61028
Ashtabula57746
Geauga56144
Wayne55459
Ross5094
Madison50310
Darke41429
Huron4115
Ottawa40426
Sandusky39917
Hancock3973
Athens3612
Holmes3316
Lawrence3180
Auglaize2756
Union2731
Scioto2591
Muskingum2481
Jefferson2403
Seneca2344
Shelby2154
Knox2147
Preble2122
Putnam21217
Washington21122
Coshocton1967
Champaign1882
Morrow1792
Crawford1775
Hardin17512
Clinton1716
Highland1692
Logan1672
Ashland1553
Fulton1551
Defiance1544
Wyandot1519
Brown1502
Perry1483
Williams1373
Fayette1240
Henry1222
Hocking1229
Guernsey1197
Carroll1135
Monroe9418
Pike800
Jackson770
Gallia741
Van Wert732
Paulding700
Adams642
Meigs580
Vinton322
Morgan300
Harrison261
Noble170
Unassigned00
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