Michiana teachers renew #Red4Ed movement ahead of new school year

NOW: Michiana teachers renew #Red4Ed movement ahead of new school year

ELKHART, Ind. -- As schools prepare for the start of another school year, teachers in Michiana are renewing their calls for more funding for public schools. 

“I just really don’t feel that the state of Indiana has done enough to help with this,” said Elkhart Teacher Association President Kerry Mullet.

Mullet says #Red4Ed, a national movement that started in 2018 to protest low teacher pay and lack of resources for public education, is alive in 2019. 

“Groups of teachers in many states are uniting together to speak up and stand up against the fact that teacher compensation is not where it needs to be [and] support for public education is not acceptable,” said Mullet. “Teachers and districts and schools are having to do more and more and more with less and less and less from the state and national government and Indiana is included in that” 

This comes after the state provided a historic $763 million in new money for K-12 education this past year. 

While it did not directly carve out money for raises, the funding provided $37 million in teacher appreciation grants. Governor Eric Holcomb also indicated the $150 million school pension liability that the state paid off should go to teacher paychecks. 

However, Mullet argues more needs to be done. 

A report from the Nelson A. Rockefeller Institute of Government released in April ranked Indiana last of the 50 states and the District of Columbia for increases in teacher pay between 2002 and 2017. 

Mullet adds 90 percent of Hoosier children go to a public school but 90 percent of the education budget does not go to public education. She also points out the funding only increased the overall education budget by 2.5 percent when advocacy groups estimated funding needed to increase by 9 percent. 

“Indiana’s constitution was founded on the fact that a free and public education would be a right of every one of our young citizens,” said Mullet. “It’s important that we continue to support both financially and just as far as our interactions with schools to make sure that that promise continues to be fulfilled.” 

Mullet says teachers are also disappointed none of Indiana’s $410 million surplus for fiscal 2019 or the state’s $2 billion in reserves went to K-12 education initiatives. 

In an op-ed published last week, Office of Management and Budget Director Chris Johnson wrote that the reserve pays, “for services when tax revenue, primarily sales and income taxes decline, but more Hoosiers require government service.” He said while $2 billion is a significant amount, it only equates to running the government for approximately 43 days. 

Johnson added reserves paid for a pension liability fund that schools funded which will save districts $140 million over the next two years. 

When addressing why none of the surplus went to educators, Johnson wrote paying for one-time expenses, like finishing U.S. 31, as opposed to longer term expenses like teacher raises, maintains the state’s long-term fiscal stability. 

Linda Fine, a geography and history teacher at Elkhart Memorial High School, lists unruly student behavior and unrealistic state standards as additional reasons why fewer people are going into the education field. 

She says this ultimately impacts students and their communitise in the Hoosier state. 

“You can’t have teachers that feel defeated or overwhelmed or stressed all the time because then, the more stressed they get, they won’t have a very good classroom,” said Fine. “They could be getting sick and then they could miss time and they’ll be out of the classroom. The community needs to be behind us because the stronger our schools are, the stronger our community will be.” 

Fine believes increasing school funding would lead to more teachers and better supported kids. She hopes legislators listen to the #Red4Ed movement as the school year and legislative session get underway. 

“Listen to the teachers,” said Fine. “We’ve been in the trenches, we’ve been in the classrooms every day. We know what we need to make our classroom successful, to make our students successful, and to make our community successful.” 

“We support the #Red4Ed movement because it brings awareness to the fact that the educators working with our children are not compensated at a level comparable to other professionals,” said Elkhart Community Schools Superintendent Steve Thalheimer in a statement. The ability to pay teachers wages competitive with other careers ensures we have the best people educating our students and ensures good teachers stay in a profession in which they see they can make a living.”

When asked how Gov. Holcomb plans to address these ongoing concerns, a spokesperson for Holcomb sent the following statement: 

"In terms of teacher pay compensation, I want it raised. I want to do it systematically. I want to do it in a sustainable way. I want it to be on a flight path of here's how we get teacher pay to be competitive with surrounding states. That's what the Next Level Teacher Compensation Commission is doing right now. It would be profusely appreciated if teachers supply us with input, because they're in the trenches, boots on the ground. They're doing it every day." 

Holcomb announced the teacher compensation commission in Feb. 2019. The commission has been tasked with determining what constitutes competitive teacher pay in the state and providing recommendations for how to accomplish it. 

The commission will be at Concord Jr. High School on Tuesday, August 27. The meeting starts at 7 p.m. and is open to the public.

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