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Dylan Peers McCoy/Chalkbeat

Indiana education advocates demand boost to school funding, teacher pay at Statehouse rally

An energetic group of more than 200 public education advocates filled the Indiana Statehouse Tuesday for a rally where speakers asked for more school funding and increased teacher pay and those listening on alternately cheered, booed, and chanted.

Frustration over stagnant compensation was an ongoing theme of the rally organized by the Indiana Coalition for Public Education, which advocates for traditional public schools. The gathering brought out teachers, union representatives, parents, and state officials.

“This is a time when Indiana’s economy is experiencing near record growth,” but education spending and teacher pay is not keeping pace, said Joel Hand, who works for the Indiana Coalition. “We can and need to do better for public ed in Indiana. We need and can do better for teachers.”

The rally coincides with the final days of Indiana’s legislative session, as lawmakers reconcile the House and Senate budgets. Those budgets include larger increases in school funding than budgets in recent years. But they largely leave it up to school districts whether and how to dole out raises through increased overall funding.

Indiana saw the lowest gains in average teacher pay of any state between 2002 and 2017, according to an analysis from the Rockefeller Institute of Government, a think tank.

“One of the things that I hear time and time again from my fellow legislators is that the states around us are hardly doing anything right. But you know what they are doing right?” said Karlee Macer,  a Democrat from Indianapolis. “They are paying their teachers! They are paying their teachers!”

Average teacher salaries were lower in Indiana than in all of the surrounding states when adjusted for cost of living in 2016-17, according to a report funded by the Indiana State Teachers Association.

For many teachers, low pay means either working two jobs or leaving the profession altogether, said Teresa Meredith, president of the Indiana State Teachers Association.

Either way, she said lower pay correlates to higher teacher turnover and “at the end of the day, our kids suffer,” she said.

The rally also touched on controversial discussions taking place in the Statehouse that have drawn backlash from many teachers, such as whether projectiles should be allowed during active shooter drills and whether to prevent schools from being “gun-free zones.”

Indiana Secretary of Education Jennifer McCormick gave an impassioned speech at the rally, urging people to ask their elected officials about their public education philosophy, their respect for teachers, and what educator they spoke to about policy.

“You get what you vote for,” she said. “You need to elect people and hold us accountable.”