Teresa Meredith, president of the Indiana State Teachers Association, on Friday said she doesn’t favor a walkout to raise awareness about public school funding and teacher pay. Staff photo by Mark Bennett
Teresa Meredith, president of the Indiana State Teachers Association, on Friday said she doesn’t favor a walkout to raise awareness about public school funding and teacher pay. Staff photo by Mark Bennett
Many teachers across the state are calling for a walkout to raise awareness about the need to improve public school funding and teacher pay, says Teresa Meredith, president of the Indiana State Teachers Association.

"I have said from the beginning, I really want to avoid that," she said. She believes other options must be used first.

Instead, she is asking teachers and public education supporters to attend a rally at 1 p.m. March 9 outside the Statehouse. It's a first step "to test the waters to see what kind of support is out there for public schools. Our polling says there is tremendous support," she said. 

If the turnout is strong, that will send a message to lawmakers, she said. From there, she anticipates additional efforts, including lobbying days at the legislature and in teachers' home communities.

"Our schools needed to be adequately funded to meet their daily needs and have money left ... for a decent teacher salary increase," she said.

Under the House Ways and Means proposal, funding for K-12 education would increase 2.1 percent in 2020 and 2.2 percent in 2021. That translates into a $461 million increase over the biennium. It is slightly more than the governor's budget proposal.

As proposed by the governor, it includes $150 million from the state surplus to pay off teacher pension needs that should yield a $70 million savings for local schools each year. School districts will be encouraged, but not mandated, to use the savings for increasing teacher pay.

It also includes a $30 million for teacher appreciation grants.

The House proposal "is moving in the right direction, but it's not enough," Meredith said. Schools need at least 3 percent to cover inflationary cost increases, "meet their daily needs and have money left ... for a decent teacher salary increase." 

Under the House proposal, projections show that state funding for the Vigo County School Corp. would increase less than a half percent the first year, and a half percent the second year, which factors in projected enrollment declines.

At the request of members, ISTA has met with Republican leadership, even prior to the legislative session, to build relationships. "I got the sense heading into the session that Republicans at least understood the teacher shortage isn't really a shortage as much as it is a crisis," she said.

There are licensed teachers. "They're just not staying in the profession," she said. There is recognition that teacher pay is a big part of the problem, but in terms of how to fix it, "We can't quite agree."

They did agree that fixing the problem will take more than one biennium, and "it would probably take a couple," she said.

She will be awaiting recommendations from the governor's commission that will study ways to boost teacher pay. Initially, she was disappointed that no teacher serves on the seven-member panel, but a related advisory group does include public school educators and an ISTA representative. 

Both groups met together Thursday, at the same table, and they will meet weekly, she said. "That seems promising ... we'll see what the recommendations are."

The end goal is to come up with long term solutions to teacher compensation and school funding in general, she said. "We are hoping to see strong recommendations from that group."

The governor has indicated he would take the recommendations seriously and act on them, she said. "I certainly hope so."

Part of the problem, she believes, is the lack of the traditional salary schedule. In the past, teachers could look at a salary schedule that provided automatic pay increases based on years of experience and education and they could see improvement over the years.

Under changes in state law, teachers can no longer receive automatic annual increments, which makes it difficult for new teachers to get ahead. Also, state funding for schools has often not kept up with inflation.

A statewide voter survey taken this summer shows "tremendous public support for public schools, for teachers, for increasing [teacher] pay," she said. "The public seems to get if you treat people as professionals, and you pay them a relatively decent wage, they might not leave the profession."

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