More than 16,000 teachers, students, family and supporters, all in red, surrounded every entrance of the Indiana Statehouse in Indianapolis. Bands played, educators chanted and speeches were made in support of the Red for Ed action day. At least 146 of Indiana’s 291 school districts were closed Tuesday.
Some of the main concerns teachers voiced were salaries, staff shortages and the effect of standardized testing on students and teachers.
The protest was located at the Statehouse to draw legislator’s attention to the teachers and students of Indiana public schools, according to the Indiana State Teachers Association website.
While many educators were hoping to draw the attention of Governor Eric Holcomb, he was not in the state. Holcolmb had a standing engagement with the Republican Governor’s Association Conference in Florida.
“As I look into this sea of red I see hope, I see our future,” said Randi Weingarten, American Federation of Teachers' president. Weingarten is a former public school teacher from New York City.
Teachers at the Statehouse told many stories of children who have become overly stressed and anxious about standardized tests, and how they took an extreme toll on their mental health.
One teacher, Bianka Tinklenberg from Plymouth, Indiana, told the audience that standardized testing causes her students a lot of stress and pain. She said she would love to have the resources to help her kids, but her school only employs a social worker two days a week.
Tinklenberg said she would like to see an increase in mental health and academic resources in schools as well as living wages for teachers, because educators should not have to have a second or third job just to make ends meet, she said.
“Think of how effective we could be if we didn’t have to fight day in and day out,” Tinklenberg said.
Indiana is ranked 37 of the 50 states in salaries for teachers, according to the National Education Association. Since 2002, Indiana has had the slowest growth in teacher’s salaries in the nation, said Sen. Tim Lanane, D-25.
According to Forbes, as of April 2019, Indiana ranked lastin the nation for teacher salary raises over the last 15 years. While teachers gathered to fight for fair pay, their number one concern is for their students, Weingarten said.
“Our students cannot wait for another budget cycle,” said Keith Gambill, ISTA President. “The crisis is now!”
Indiana is also facing a shortage of educators. Positions in schools can’t be filled because respect and pay for teachers is not high enough, said GlenEva Dunham, president of AFT Indiana. Public school budgets are decided at a local level, but state legislators make the laws and state budgets, so teachers brought the fight for funding to them.
“We must stand and we must fight for the children of Indiana,” said Rep. Melanie Wright, D-35, who is also a teacher.
Teachers also called for more funds to be invested in public schools rather than private or charter schools. The Indiana Department of Education reports that 90% of Hoosier students attend public schools. However, charter and private schools receive about 8% more funding than public schools, according to the Indiana Coalition for Public Education.
“When are we going to start preparing kids for the future?” Wright said, “We can no longer be held accountable to the testing companies, we must be held accountable to our kids.”
When asked what’s next, many members of the ISTA and AFT Indiana said the 2020 elections.
Across the atrium of the State House, chants of ‘vote them out’ echoed over speeches from educators and lawmakers.