By Brandon Barger
INDIANAPOLIS—House Speaker Brian Bosma told the thousands of teachers who traveled to the Statehouse to rally for better pay and improved funding that lawmakers “get it” and will address some of their issues when they return in January.
If the Indianapolis Republican succeeds, it will be among his last acts as the longest-serving speaker of the Indiana House. Tuesday, as lawmakers convened for one day to organize for the 2020 session, Bosma announced that he will step down as speaker in March and will not seek re-election next year.
As many as five thousand teachers and their supporters flooded the Statehouse and filled the corridor outside the House chamber where Bosma, 62, delivered his address. Outside the Statehouse, thousands more rallied, carrying signs that delivered their messages such as “enough is enough” and “less money on testing, more money on schools.”
Against the backdrop of chanting educators, including some boos, Bosma recited how education funding has increased and said that if teachers aren’t getting more in their paychecks it might be because so much is going to administration.
“In short, we get it,” Bosma said. “We get that you are frustrated. We get that you are concerned about issues.”
Bosma said lawmakers will pass legislation when they return in January to protect teachers and schools from being penalized for low ILEARN test scores. Teacher appreciation grants will be awarded based on last year’s test scores, he added.
Addressing a related issue, he said, “We also need to take a hard look, if we can do it this session, on separating teacher assessments from testing.”
School districts across Indiana closed for the Red for Ed rally and more than 14,000 had signed up to attend. Earlier in the morning, bus after the bus pulled in from the Statehouse and unloaded another group of teachers, parents, and supporters.
Concerns about the ILEARN test brought Soo Sup Cha, 25, a kindergarten teacher in the Monroe County School Corporation, to join the march.
“We have so much testing going on,” Cha said. “And for kindergartners, they’re only five years old. There are a lot of expectations for the kids.”
Jennifer Crossley, 36, came with her children, Kendall, Mason, and Sydney from Bloomington. “Our school system is still open, but we decided that we were going to come out and support teachers,” she said.
The president of the Indiana State Teachers Association, Keith Gambill, a middle school music and drama teacher in Evansville since 1987, spoke to the assembled crowd from the south steps of the Statehouse about how teachers are coming together to voice their concerns.
“Today, you say enough is enough,” Gambill said as cheers from the sea of red erupted.
Audrey Gower, a fifth-grade reading teacher from Hebron Elementary School in Evansville, made the long trek to the Statehouse not just for herself, but for her two daughters, who are first-year teachers.
“They will never make a decent living wage and that is important to me,” Gower said as she stood in the cold near the steps of the Statehouse surrounded by hundreds of other teachers.
Fourth-grade teachers Savannah Goss and Hannah Merk of Greater Clark County Schools in Jeffersonville both said they were at the rally because of their students and their co-workers.
“We need more funding, especially for school counselors,” Merk, who has been teaching for three years, said. She and Goss were up at 4:30 a.m. to make it to the Red for Ed rally.
Gov. Eric Holcomb, in Florida for a Republican Governors Association meeting, issued a statement applauding teachers for rallying and said, “I remain committed to finding long-term sustainable solutions to increase teacher compensation. That’s why I created the Next Level Teacher Compensation Commission and signed our recent two-year budget that included historic levels of increased funding for K-12.”
The compensation commission isn’t expected to complete its work and make recommendations for another year.
As teachers and their supporters rallied, advocates for redistricting reform held a press conference to discuss how gerrymandered legislative districts hurt schools. Many legislative districts in Indiana are either overwhelming Republican or Democrat, which leaves little competition for many seats.
“We all understand how gerrymandering is hurting our schools, it is hurting our educators. We need to get redistricting reform if we are ever going to get education reform,” said Julia Vaughn, policy director for Common Cause.
Rep. Tonya Pfaff, D-Terre Haute, who is also a teacher, said that if the problem of gerrymandered doesn’t get fixed, then the education problems would not get fixed either.
Both the House and the Senate return to the Statehouse on Jan. 6.
FOOTNOTE: Brandon Barger is a reporter with TheStatehouseFile.com, a news website powered by Franklin College journalism students.