INDIANAPOLIS (Reuters) – Teachers in Indiana gathered outside the State Capitol building on Tuesday in protest of low salaries and evaluation policies, forcing half the state’s school districts to cancel classes for the day.
Hundreds of protesters, many of them wearing red sweaters and hats, held signs that read, “I can’t stay for the day, I have to go to my second job,” and “Don’t shortchange on education,” as they stood on the steps of the building in the capital Indianapolis on a frigid morning.
The Indiana State Teachers Association said it expected its day of action to draw some 15,000 teachers who will be using personal days to walk off the job as state law prohibits them from striking. The state’s department of education could not confirm the number of teachers who were expected to attend.
Still, so many teachers had signed up for the protest that half the state’s 289 school districts have canceled classes, the Indiana State Teachers Association said.
It was the latest in a wave of work stoppages and protests by U.S. educators. 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 resources, especially for underfunded schools.
“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, putting them in the bottom third of U.S. states for teachers’ pay, according to the National Education Association, the country’s largest labor union. 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 boost the average salary statewide to $60,000, near the national average.
State teachers are asking lawmakers to pass legislation that would prevent new standardized testing scores from counting against teacher and school evaluations for this school year. They are also seeking to repeal a new law that requires them to take private-sector jobs for a time to renew their teaching licenses.
Republican Governor Eric Holcomb set up a commission this year to examine the salary 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 said on Monday.
Reporting by Bryan Woolston in Indianapolis and Brendan O’Brien in Chicago; Editing by Scott Malone, Peter Cooney and Bernadette Baum
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