Teachers' Rally Will Force Schools To Close Across Indiana The teachers will gather at the statehouse. They want more funding for poorer students, fewer unfunded mandates and to stop linking test scores to teacher evaluations.

Teachers' Rally Will Force Schools To Close Across Indiana

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More than half a million students in Indiana will be out of school today as thousands of their teachers are expected to descend on the State House. Indiana Public Broadcasting's Jeanie Lindsay reports that their action is part of a growing movement.

JEANIE LINDSAY, BYLINE: It won't be business as usual when Indiana lawmakers return to the Statehouse today. There will be a sea of teachers wearing red pouring into the building, making a lot of noise, probably sounding something like this.



LINDSAY: That's the sound of hundreds of teachers inside the Statehouse eight months ago chanting, not OK. They were there to highlight Indiana's ranking as 36th in the country for average teacher pay.

ERIN BRAUNE: It really felt like we finally had people engaged, and we had momentum that I hadn't seen before.

LINDSAY: That's Erin Braune, who teaches in southern Indiana and helped organize today's event. She says it's crucial to tap the energy of the protests earlier this year. It's expected that more than 14,000 teachers and their supporters will show up at the Capitol today. The state's largest teachers union says more than 140 school districts are closing for the day. But some, like Superintendent Laura Hammack's small rural district, plan to stay open if they can.

LAURA HAMMACK: When we alter our schedule, that can really alter the work schedule or even just the supervision schedule for many, many of our families in our communities.

LINDSAY: Some districts have boosted teachers' pay this year, but Braune says there wasn't enough new state money to go around. Some districts didn't get anything. She adds, the concerns of teachers go far beyond bigger paychecks.

BRAUNE: The lawmakers could say, hey, look - we did this for you; we gave you an increase. But it kind of neglects the larger picture of things that have been happening over the last 10 years.

LINDSAY: And that larger picture includes concerns about a controversial new licensing requirement and the impact of student test scores on teacher and school ratings. And even though Indiana won't make big budget decisions until 2021, teachers want more money from the state's surplus fund to support under-resourced public schools.

BRAUNE: We need to see that the lawmakers listen and act on what we say and not just smile and nod.

LINDSAY: Teacher protests in states like West Virginia, Arizona and Oklahoma also centered on pay benefits and more resources for students. All three of those states rank among the lowest in teacher salaries nationwide, well below Indiana's average pay. But Indiana also has a booming school voucher program, and many public school teachers see lawmakers as favoring private and charter schools that they claim aren't held to the same standards.

Brad Marianno teaches at the University of Nevada, where he studies teachers unions and politics. He says Indiana follows a trend of more teacher union-based activism in states with Republican-controlled legislatures.

BRAD MARIANNO: Where GOP holds a majority and have implemented what might be seen as kind of privatized reforms to education, your school choice reforms and whatnot.

LINDSAY: Indiana lawmakers have already signaled they plan to meet some but not all of teachers' demands. With the governor running for reelection next year and, for the first time, able to appoint the state's school superintendent, the stakes are high. That could mean if enough teachers are unhappy with progress on reforms, today's red wave in the Statehouse could influence the ballot box.

For NPR News, I'm Jeanie Lindsay.

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