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Educators lobby in Indy on ‘Red for Ed’ day

Educators lobby in Indy on ‘Red for Ed’ day Educators lobby in Indy on ‘Red for Ed’ day
J.C. Lyell, Staff Writer, [email protected]

More than 15,000 teachers from the Hoosier State poured into legislative offices and around the statehouse in Indianapolis last Tuesday to raise concerns over stagnant wages, diminishing funding for public schools and discontent with standardized testing.

All three of Harrison County’s public school corporations canceled classes due to the number of teachers who requested off for the Red for Ed Action Day.

Ron Zink, a sixth-grade teacher at North Harrison Middle School and president of the North Harrison Classroom Teachers’ Association, said about 20 North Harrison teachers made the trip to rally with fellow educators.

“The key point was just to make people aware that Indiana is falling behind in the Midwest in school funding,” Zink said. “It’s more than just advocating for teacher pay.”

Due to cuts in public education funding during roughly the last 12 years, Zink said Indiana schools have been forced to cut programs, find ways to comply with unfunded mandates and hire uncertified or underqualified staff in some cases.

The North Harrison group had a chance to meet with State Rep. Karen Engleman, R-Georgetown, to discuss specific needs of teachers in their corporation.

Zink said one issue the teachers highlighted was that the formula the state uses to determine funding for schools affects rural schools differently and punishes corporations for losing students midway through the year.

Part of the formula includes a second student count date in February, in addition to the first enrollment count date in September that factors into a corporation’s budget. If a school corporation’s total enrollment is lower in February than it was in December, the state will cut funding that was allocated for the corporation to receive.

Zink said schools often lose students between the count dates due to early graduations or families moving elsewhere.

“The state takes money back from the funding we’re getting (in the middle of the school year),” he said. “You can’t account for that change.”

Zink said it gets complicated if student attrition is spread out uniformly across grade levels. Hypothetically, if a corporation loses two students from each grade, there might be 30 fewer students enrolled, but there likely wouldn’t be a substantial change in any class sizes. As a result, administrators would be put in a tough spot to make cuts mid school year.

Dr. Jennifer McCormick’s office, Indiana Superintendent of Public Instruction, released a statement that addressed count dates ahead of the rally.

“Dr. McCormick will encourage the consolidation of the number of data collection dates, including count dates, for charter schools, traditional corporations and accredited non-public schools to October first,” the statement said.

Engleman also responded to criticisms about the second count date later in the week after meeting with dozens of teachers on Tuesday.

“We must appropriate the funds to cover the needs of everyone,” she said. “If the school’s student count goes down, the funding they receive must go down also. It does not make sense to send money for students who are not there.”

About 12 to 15 teachers from Lanesville Community School Corp. were also able to attend the rally, said Liz Schigur, president of the Lanesville Education Association.

The Lanesville group wasn’t able to meet with any representatives due to the crowd at and around the Statehouse, but they marched with their fellow educators to express solidarity and support in a bid to help raise awareness for the cause.

“One of the things we really wanted to talk about was the 15-hour externship requirement,” Schigur said.

A law took effect this year that sets new requirements for teachers to have their licenses recertified.

Some teachers have lifetime certifications, but the vast majority must be recertified every five years, Schigur said. When many teachers are already forced to work two jobs to make ends meet, she said, the additional stipulation places an unnecessary burden on the educators.

Engleman said externships are not required for recertification.

“No additional credits are required,” she said.

Existing recertification rules mandated that 90 credit hours of training be completed for each teacher’s recertification. With the new law, 15 of those hours must be earned through “career navigation activities, experiences or community partnerships.”

“There are many ways for teachers to earn 15 of their 90 already-required points,” Engleman said. “We have heard from the businesses in our area that they do not have skilled employees. We have heard from college graduates that their career pathway left them with large student loan debt and no available high-paying job.

“If we want high-paying jobs to locate and remain in our area, we must supply them with job-ready workers and what we were doing did not seem to be working,” Engleman said.

Another concern the Lanesville teachers hoped to bring light to was new legislation that now requires each corporation to employ a certified specialist trained to work with students with dyslexia.

State Sen. Erin Houchin, R-Salem, introduced the bill that also requires school reading plans to incorporate dyslexia screening. It was signed into law in April last year without a plan to fund the initiative.

“We agree with the legislation; however, it’s unfunded,” Schigur said.

Schigur has received the certification for identifying dyslexia and serves as the school’s specialist. She said having only one staff member trained is not working for students or staff, and, ideally, all teachers would receive the training.

“I also teach kindergarten full-time, so I cannot conduct interventions with dyslexic students (while teaching),” she said.

The practice of passing these “unfunded mandates” has created challenges at the local level in recent years as corporations are tasked to do more with less.

“(Public education’s share of the state budget) has dropped drastically in the last 10 years,” said Veronica Hobbs, Indiana State Teachers’ Association representative for district 21, which includes Harrison and Crawford counties.

She said in this year’s state budget, public schools saw only a 2% increase in funding, while funding for charter and virtual schools went up 10%.

Hobbs said this gap in funding disproportionately affects the southern part of the state, which has less access to charter schools than more urban districts to the north.

“Teachers are also concerned with the amount of time we are testing kids,” she said. “When you’re doing all that testing, you really don’t have time to utilize the results.”

This year’s ILEARN and ISTEP score releases are fresh in the minds of educators, who still haven’t learned how their compensation will be affected by the tests. When results were released in September, it was revealed that less than half of all students who took the test received passing scores.

Even before results were distributed, Gov. Eric Holcomb asked McCormick to support legislation aimed at holding the scores harmless for teachers’ compensation and school and corporation letter grades. McCormick recently announced her support for the action, which was also taken after the release of 2015’s ISTEP results.

Joining the two in calls for hold harmless are Engleman and Rep. Steve Davisson, R-Salem.

Davisson said he speaks with educators often and was aware of many of their concerns even before the rally, but he was happy to see their passion on display in the state capital.

He said some of the issues may be the result of well-meaning legislators getting too involved in decisions that should be made locally.

“I have always been concerned about the legislature getting involved in these and other local matters where local decisions are more appropriate,” Davisson said. “I think the legislature has an important part in education policy, but sometimes good intentions have unintended consequences.”

Forty-three teachers from the South Harrison Community School Corp. attended the event.