On November 19, over half of Indiana’s public schools were shut as 20,000 teachers, students and their supporters flooded the Indiana statehouse to demand better funding, higher pay and divestment from expensive standardized testing. Organized by the Indiana State Teachers Association, the Red for Ed rally in Indianapolis was the second action day in less than a year.
Teachers have been increasingly targeted by state lawmakers, especially after the initial action day on March 9. In addition to taking away voters’ ability to elect the school superintendent (it is now a governor-appointed position), legislators voted to add a 15-hour externship to the requirements for the renewal of teaching licenses. Teachers say that this is tantamount to requiring them to work 15 hours for free, on top of their school workload. One teacher held a sign above their head proclaiming, “Legislators, come do an unpaid ‘externship’ in MY classroom and see how YOU like it!”
Chants of “Money for public education/Not for testing corporations!” and “Kids need libraries, kids need books/Schools need the money that Bosma took!” made it clear that the teachers knew exactly what they wanted from lawmakers. Brian Bosma is the Speaker of the Indiana House of Representatives and has led the assault on public education in the state. Throughout the crowd, three demands were repeated over and over: more funding, smaller class sizes and less testing.
Bob Elson, a parent and teacher from Grant County, said that the amount of required testing has negatively impacted his district’s classrooms.
“It’s hard to even have a lesson plan, because sometimes half or more of your students are away taking tests,” he said. “And we’re not really quite sure how important those tests are; they cost millions of dollars, and we think maybe that money could be directed to other avenues.”
Such avenues include hiring more teachers. Danielle Webb, a teacher in Huntington County, said that over the past few years, budget restrictions have forced her school district to fire teachers, increasing class sizes for those who remain.
“We need to be giving more to our students, not cutting programs, which is what’s been happening the past four or five years,” she told Liberation News.
Lawmakers responded with hostility to the first Red for Ed rally, and were hard at work demonizing teachers in the buildup to the second. But Indiana teachers won’t go down without a fight, and the wave of teachers’ strikes that started sweeping the country in 2018 shows us exactly how powerful teachers can be when they organize and struggle together.