Classes canceled as Indiana teachers rally for higher pay

Indiana teachers want the Republican-controlled senate to raise the average statewide salary to $60,000, closer to the national average.

Michael Conroy/AP
Teachers cheer during a rally on April 16, 2019 at the Statehouse in Indianapolis. The Indiana Teachers Association say half the state's 289 school districts canceled classes on Nov. 19, 2019, as teachers returned to demand higher pay.

Thousands of teachers in Indiana are planning to pack the state Capitol on Tuesday to voice their frustration over low salaries and evaluation policies, forcing half the state's school districts to cancel classes for the day.

The Indiana State Teachers Association said it expected its day of action in Indianapolis to draw some 15,000 teachers, who will be using personal days to walk off the job, as state law prohibits them from striking.

It is the latest in a wave of statewide work stoppages and protests by educators across the United States. In 2018, teachers in Arizona, West Virginia, and Oklahoma staged largely successful days-long strikes demanding higher salaries.

Teachers in Chicago and Los Angeles also went on strike this year, securing more school resources, especially for underfunded schools, framing their demands as a call for social justice.

"It all comes back to one word, which is respect," said Indiana State Teachers Association Vice President Jennifer Smith-Margraf. "Teaching and education in general are not respected the way they used to be."

Indiana teachers make an average of $51,000 a year, in the bottom third of U.S. states for teachers' pay, the National Education Association said. The state school system has about 1.2 million students.

Teachers in Indiana are asking the Republican-controlled state legislature to commit $700 million this year to increase the average salary statewide to $60,000, near the national average.

Ms. Smith-Margraf said Indiana school districts each year lost about a sixth of their teachers, largely for better-paying jobs in surrounding states including Ohio and Michigan.

"This has become a crisis-level issue," Ms. Smith-Margraf said.

Republican Governor Eric Holcomb this year created a commission to examine the issue and provide recommendations before the 2021 legislative session.

"Governor Holcomb has made finding long-term sustainable solutions to improve teacher compensation a top priority," a spokeswoman for the governor said on Monday.

The state's department of education could not confirm the number of teachers who were expected to attend.

So many have signed up to take part that half the state's 289 school districts have canceled classes, the Indiana Teachers Association said.

Teachers in Indiana are also asking lawmakers to pass legislation that would prevent new statewide standardized testing scores from counting against teacher and school evaluations for this school year. They are also seeking repeal of a new law that requires them to take private-sector jobs for a time to renew their teaching licenses.

This story was reported by Reuters.

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