Kids deserve more. That was the message heard across the state of Indiana during Tuesday’s Red for Ed Day of Action, and the purpose behind 15,000 educators and other supportive Hoosiers filling the sacred halls of the Statehouse. This event purposefully coincided with the Indiana General Assembly’s Organization Day, dedicated to preparing for the 2020 legislative session. “Politics as usual” at the Statehouse was eclipsed by a grassroots effort to advocate for kids.
Kids deserve more. Kids deserve educators who take a stand against Indiana’s disconnected education policy and the issue of inadequate funding. While many, including myself, have been champions for public education for decades, it took a red wave crashing into the Statehouse to finally catch the attention of the lawmakers inside. Frustrations regarding funding inequities, compensation shortfalls and policies void of practitioner input were vocalized by constituents from all 92 counties.
Kids deserve more. Indiana teachers are woefully underpaid. Do not be misled by the partisan boast that education received a historic funding increase this past biennium. Fifty-eight percent of districts will receive less than the 2.5 percent increase touted by lawmakers. Within that 58 percent, 18 percent will actually receive less money than the prior year. Compared to other states, Indiana ranks last in salary increases since 2002, and forty-sixth when considering percentage changes to educators’ average salary. Additionally, Indiana’s starting salary ranks thirty-fifth in the nation, contributing to our state’s teacher turnover rate being the fourth-highest. Statistics take on a personal meaning when you consider that one in every three teachers who have entered an Indiana classroom in the last five years has abandoned the profession.
Kids deserve more. Indiana schools are penalized by an antiquated and misguided state accountability system. Schools saw an implementation dip with the first administration of ILEARN this past spring, prompting many entities, including the Indiana Department of Education, to request a “hold harmless” year when assigning school letter grades. While granting this request will provide temporary relief, lawmakers must go a step further to remedy the disparities created by a system of accountability that contradicts federal guidelines and penalizes schools serving students most at risk.
Kids deserve more. Indiana’s present educational policy prescribing 15 of the required 90 professional growth points for license renewal fails to recognize the diverse needs of individual learners. Educators should be empowered to choose the most appropriate training allowing them to develop students’ academic capacity and social-emotional well-being.
Kids deserve more. Kids deserved this mobilization of professional solidarity. Given the state mandate of 180 instructional days for traditional public schools, parents can be assured schools will meet this obligation despite many district closures on this unprecedented day. Responsible citizenship is not easy and often requires difficult decisions. Kids deserve purposeful inclusion of educators’ voices into our state’s decision making. Without a doubt, educators and supporters will continue to advocate for Hoosier students, as our kids deserve nothing less. Championing public education cannot be just a moment; it must be a movement.
Jennifer McCormick is Indiana’s superintendent of public instruction.