The future of public education in Indiana and across the country is at risk, according to Crawfordsville Community Schools Superintendent Dr. Scott Bowling, and educators are ramping up pressure on state lawmakers to do something about it.
“Our society depends on quality public education,” Bowling said to the nearly 30 teachers and staff who gathered for a rally outside Crawfordsville High School on Wednesday. “Public educators are being dangerously undervalued.”
They feel they’re underpaid, too.
That’s why Crawfordsville schools joined other districts around the state for planned walk-ins as part of the Red for Ed movement to push lawmakers for additional funding for public education. It comes a day after the state Senate voted to proceed with a budget that would boost funding 2.7 percent next school year and 2.2 percent the following year.
Those in education say it isn’t enough.
“The problem of undervaluing public education and public educators is caused by a lack of financial support, plain and simple,” Bowling said. “Support from the state is not what it needs to be and we also have an over reliance on standardized testing that’s diminishing the role of teachers in students’ education.”
Bowling says legislators can fix the problem with “meaningful increases” in funding, and an increase in trust and respect for educators by “decreasing the trust that is put in standardized tests.”
It’s unlikely, however, that schools will get more than what was proposed, and it could actually be less after new projections released Wednesday showed slower growth in state revenue.
The forecast projected about $30 million less in tax revenue than a December report that has been used in preparing the $34 billion spending plan for the next two years.
House and Senate negotiators have an April 29 deadline to reach an agreement on a budget plan.
The ones behind the Red for Ed movement believe an investment in education is worth it.
Walk-ins were also held at Crawfordsville Middle School along with Hose and Hoover elementary schools.
While addressing the teachers gathered outside Hose Elementary School, Dr. Kathy Steele compared teaching to an artist sculpting clay.
“Your goal is to create something beautiful, worthwhile and a masterpiece,” she said. “You start shaping and creating the very first day the kids walk into your classroom. You mold them every day into caring, responsible students.”
Steele was part of Crawfordsville Schools for 43 years, including as superintendent before she retired in 2014. She knows firsthand that much of what teachers do goes unnoticed, done behind the scenes and without flaunting their hard work or good deeds. But it’s becoming increasingly difficult to find and keep good teachers.
Indiana State University’s annual survey of Indiana school superintendents conducted by Dr. Terry McDaniel, a professor of educational leadership, showed that 91 percent of the 220 districts that responded had a shortage of teachers last fall. Additionally, 94 percent struggle to find qualified applicants.
It’s a problem across the country, and the issue over pay led to a six-day strike in California, “sickouts” in Kentucky and walkouts in West Virginia.
Indiana teachers, however, chose walk-ins, even as a recent report by the Rockefeller Institute shows Indiana at No. 50 on a list showing the average change in teacher salaries in each state between 2002-17. Indiana teacher salaries increased an average of $6,904 in the 15-year period.
“I want you to focus on a number: 16 percent. That’s how much Indiana teachers have lost in 15 years,” Paul Utterback said at a gathering at Crawfordsville Middle School, where he teaches English. He also serves as president of the Crawfordsville Education Foundation.
“Sixteen percent in real wages because of inflation and stagnated education funds,” Utterback continued. “Are you worth 16 percent less now than you were 15 years ago? It’s not acceptable. You’re worth more than that.”
Teachers at each rally also heard from administrators, including at Hose Elementary School where assistant superintendent Dr. Rex Ryker urged teachers to keep fighting the battle with lawmakers.
“I encourage you to stick together and stick together in the passion of why you became a teacher,” he said. “But you also have to stick together in a voice. We have to play a little bit of the game of politics, even though I believe politics don’t belong in school at all. But it’s part of what we’re in now.”
Take the political battle out of it and the passion is all for the children.
“Real teachers never give up,” Steele said. “You accept the challenge because you are creating the future generations. You have the skills to make a difference in the lives of each and every student. Now by the end of the year, you have shaped the future. What you do lasts a lifetime. That’s why teachers are so important.”