Indiana Capitol

LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WDRB) -- Half of Indiana’s school districts, including several in Kentuckiana, will be closed or taking “e-learning” days Tuesday as thousands of teachers descend on the Capitol to urge lawmakers to give schools more money and relief during next year’s legislative session.

Educators’ most pressing concern is better funding for districts and teachers throughout Indiana, primarily in the form of pay raises to help keep teachers in the profession, those interviewed by WDRB News said Monday.

The Indiana State Teachers Association, which organized Tuesday’s "Red for Ed Action Day" that has attracted interest from about 16,000 teachers throughout the state, has said Indiana lags its neighboring states in average salaries for educators.

Even though lawmakers will not take up the arduous task of writing a two-year budget until the 2021 session, ISTA President Keith Gambill said he hopes lawmakers will provide raises for teachers when the Indiana General Assembly convenes in January, particularly in light of a $410 million budget surplus at the close of fiscal year 2019.

“I think that’s going to be one of the hardest hurdles to cross,” Gambill said in a phone interview Monday.

Joy Lohmeyer, an engagement coach at New Albany High School who serves as president of the New Albany Floyd County Education Association, said Indiana lawmakers should also consider a better funding model for public education in the state, which is largely based on sales tax receipts.

“That’s not a very stable way to fund us,” Lohmeyer told WDRB News, adding that districts faced steep cuts during the recession 10 years ago as a result of Indiana’s funding model.

More than 200 New Albany Floyd County teachers are expected to travel to Indianapolis on Tuesday as lawmakers gather for an organizational day ahead of the 2020 session, she said. Mark Felix, dean of students at Charlestown Middle School and president of the Greater Clark Education Association, said he anticipates nearly as many teachers to represent Greater Clark County Schools in Indianapolis on Tuesday.

“I think they’re fed up, and I think that they finally are ready to speak up and be heard,” Felix said of the thousands of educators expected at the Indiana statehouse.

Aside from funding, teachers are also rallying lawmakers to hold them and their school districts harmless for poor results on this year’s ILEARN assessments and to repeal a requirement that teachers complete a 15-hour “externship” with a local business to renew their teaching licenses.

Indiana policymakers, including Gov. Eric Holcomb and House and Senate leadership, have indicated their support against using the dismal ILEARN test results — 37% of students demonstrated proficiency in both reading and math — for school accountability grades and teacher evaluations.

Still, financial concerns are at the forefront for those who plan to rally at the Indiana statehouse Tuesday.

After using normal lobbying channels to advocate for their professional needs, Indiana teachers said they’re ready to take more drastic measures like Tuesday’s rally to get the attention of lawmakers.

Christina Schotter, a fourth-grade reading teacher at Clarksville Elementary School and president of the Clarksville Education Association, called Tuesday’s demonstration “a step of bravery” for teachers, some of whom work two or three jobs outside their classrooms.

“We want to make sure that we’re here for our kids, but we also need to be taken care of,” Schotter said. “...It makes it really difficult when they’re not even making enough to make their ends meet.”

State Rep. Rita Fleming, D-Jeffersonville, said she believes Indiana teachers have the attention of their legislature.

“If we look at our sister state, Kentucky, and look at the impact that teachers made, I think that is going to help empower our educators to realize you show up, you make your voices heard, and we’re going to listen to you,” Fleming said.

If lawmakers don’t listen, teachers say they’re prepared to take action at the ballot box.

Without action on funding issues like teacher compensation next year, Gambill noted that the next budget-writing session will come after the 2020 election cycle.

“If something isn’t accomplished or if it’s not what it needs to be, we’re going to make sure that public education is the No. 1 issue for voters when they go to the polls next November,” he said.

Lohmeyer said the community reaction in Floyd County has been positive, which educators will need if they hope to make an impact politically.

“If the current legislators will not respond, then what we will need is community engagement with us in order to make changes,” she said.

Southern Indiana school districts closed or on “e-learning” days Tuesday

  • Clarksville Community School Corporation
  • Crothersville Community Schools
  • Greater Clark County Schools
  • Jennings County School Corporation
  • Lanesville Community Schools
  • Madison Consolidated Schools
  • New Albany Floyd County Consolidated Schools
  • North Harrison Community Schools
  • Salem Community Schools
  • South Harrison Community Schools
  • Southwestern Jefferson County Consolidated Schools
  • West Clark Community Schools

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