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Red for Ed builds steam as local schools announce closures

More than 250 Howard County teachers headed to Indianapolis

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RALLYING — Teachers rally outside of Western High School in April.

Across the state, school corporations announced closures and e-learning days as teachers plan to flock to the state capitol in a collective call for improved funding. Multiple schools in Howard County are joining the effort.

More than 300 Howard County teachers will head to the statehouse on Red for Ed Action Day on Nov. 19 where they will join nearly 8,500 other Hoosier teachers and supporters in calling for more funding, better pay, and overall improvements to the state’s standardized testing practices.

According to Western Teachers Association President Brad Bennett, the fact that so many teachers are taking action showed that they are near a breaking point in frustrations with the state of Indiana.

“It’s a culmination of all those things that have gotten to the point where teachers have said enough is enough,” said Bennett. “To get this many people mobilized, it’s hard to put the gravity and frustration levels of teachers into words, but do you understand what it takes for a teacher to say, ‘I am doing my classroom more good by going down to the statehouse today than to spend time in my classroom doing what I love, doing what I am driven to do in teaching my kids’? I’m doing my kids a better service lobbying this day and hoping the legislature finally opens their eyes and sees what they are doing to my children is terrible.”

Western School Corporation recently announced it would be closing on Nov. 19 as more than 100 teachers from the district plan to attend the Red for Ed Action Day. Joining Western is Taylor School Corporation, which also will be closed. Of that school’s 81 teachers, 58 will be attending. Additionally, about 110 Kokomo Teachers Association members will head to Indianapolis, and Kokomo School Corporation also will close. Joining these groups are about 10 Eastern-Howard School Corporation educators and another 20 Northwestern School Corporation teachers.

The event itself is unusual for members of the Indiana School Teacher’s Association. While it’s not odd for teachers to lobby at the Indiana Statehouse, they’ve never before held such an event during a school day, forcing school closures. The fact that the event preempts the upcoming legislative session is also of note, with Nov. 19 being Organization Day for the Indiana General Assembly.

“I think that in years past, leadership’s approach, ISTA, has been to wait for [legislators] to come out with their plan and basically play defense,” said Nicole Mundy, president of the Kokomo Teachers Association. “We’re playing offense now. This is step one of, ‘Hey, we’re here, and we’re not going anywhere.’ I’m pretty happy with the results of this movement.”

Educators across the board appear unified in their message, with three primary talking points driving their lobbying effort. The first is a call for increased teacher compensation utilizing the state’s more than $2 billion surplus. Indiana ranks last in the country in terms of salary growth.

But teachers were quick to point out that the requested raises aren’t self-motivated but rather a need to stem the ongoing teacher shortage throughout the state.

Aside from better pay, teachers also are demanding to be held harmless from the state’s latest round of new standardized testing, I-Learn.

New state requirements in the form of 15-hour externships for license renewals are being opposed by educators on Nov. 19 too, as is the idea of the state using post-graduation status as a way to grade schools.

“The reason teachers are going down is beyond teacher pay,” said Bennett. “Nobody went into teaching thinking they would be rich. Everyone went in knowing it might be a struggle, but it was a calling. Beyond teacher pay, it is the inadequate school funding that makes this day so important. It’s the terrible legislative agenda that’s been weighed against public education. That’s what this day is all about. It’s not just about teacher pay. It is part in the pie, but it’s not the entirety of it though … It is an injustice to the children of Indiana.”

More teachers are likely to join the ranks of those already attending. In the latter part of last week, Indianapolis schools announced it would close for the lobbying effort, adding scores of educators to the event. Locally, teachers association presidents saw their participation rates grow as well.

“Red for Ed is picking up a lot of steam. People are waking up. More and more schools are closing all around, and people are wanting to send a message to be a part of the Red for Ed movement. Our legislators really aren’t supplying the funds the kids need, and that’s what it comes down to. The first impact happens to the kids,” said Alexander Pier, president of the Northwestern Corporation Education Association.