Updated Nov. 19 at 6:15 p.m.
Thousands of educators gathered outside the Indiana statehouse for the “Red for Ed” rally Tuesday to support public education. The Indiana State Teacher Association says its focus is three-pronged: ILEARN hold harmless, repeal career awareness licensure requirement, and use surplus money for public schools.
Nov. 19 is the legislature's Organization Day, the first formal meeting of the state legislature ahead of the 2020 session.
Vigo County teacher Dianne Burpo says the excitement of the rally and the large number of participants makes her hopeful for the future.
“When so many thousands of public education friends, and students, and family members, and teachers themselves show up in unity today, right here where these decisions are being made, I feel hope,” Burpo says.
Superintendent of Public Instruction Jennifer McCormick spoke at the rally and says educators want adequate and equitable funding, flexibility in professional development and fair accountability. McCormick says it’s taking lawmakers way too long to make these changes.
“Our students deserve every bit of this advocacy that you see, but it is a shame that it takes this type of advocacy to get what our students deserve,” McCormick says.
Due to teacher participation, more than half of Indiana's school districts are closed. But as many of their colleagues from Lafayette and Tippecanoe County schools protested in Indianapolis Tuesday, teachers at West Lafayette schools held classes – but not before convening early morning rallies at several schools.
“When Indiana’s state budget increased public funding by only 2.5 percent, while charter schools and voucher programs received more than 10 percent increases, we are being ignored," West Lafayette Junior High School Student Council President Rahul Durai told a crowd of about 100 people who assembled at West Lafayette High School. "When Indiana laws requires that our old Happy Hollow School building be given to charter schools for a buck, we are being ignored.”
West Lafayette High School science teacher – and co-president of the West Lafayette Education Association -- Andi Hipsher says she hopes lawmakers get the message from Tuesday’s events. But if not, she says there’s always the ballot box.
“We kinda want to keep it less political today," Hipsher says. "But I have a feeling that as time goes on, it will start to lean that way.”
Educators are putting the onus on state lawmakers to provide adequate funding for a salary boost.
Indiana Republican legislative leaders say they had productive conversations with teachers Tuesday during the rally.
Speaker Brian Bosma applauded teachers’ exercise of free speech but seemed irked by some of the protests during his speech to the House.
“When we’re talking about treating teachers like professionals and not factory workers and there’s interrupting chanting, that probably wasn’t a positive,” Bosma says. “But, you know, no harm, no foul.”
Republican leaders have already pledged to do some things educators rallied for, including holding teachers and schools harmless for sharp drops in statewide test scores.
But Senate President Pro Tem Rodric Bray says there won’t be more money for teacher pay in the 2020 session.
“We’re going to focus on the ILEARN piece and some other things but you’re not going to see us talk a lot about finding more dollars for schools because it’s not a budget year,” Bray says.
Gov. Eric Holcomb was not at Statehouse Tuesday. He is in Florida, attending a conference. But in a statement, he called the rally a "great opportunity."
"I remain committed to finding long-term sustainable solutions to increase teacher compensation. That’s why I created the Next Level Teacher Compensation Commission and signed our recent two-year budget that included historic levels of increased funding for K-12," Holcomb said. "As we continue to seek systemic improvements, it’s essential we retain and attract great teachers to ensure Hoosier students receive the best education our state can offer.”
The 2020 legislative session begins Jan. 6.
Indiana Public Broadcasting's Lauren Chapman, Jeanie Lindsay and Brandon Smith; WBAA's Stan Jastrzebski; and WFIU/WTIU's Allison Zeithammer, Adam Pinsker and Seth Tackett contributed reporting to this story.