Hoosier teachers set 2020 legislative goals

Whitney Downard | CNHI News IndianaKeith Gambill, president of the Indiana State Teachers Association, announces the group’s legislative priorities for 2020 in a press conference.

The demands of teachers for the 2020 legislative session remain the same: increased teacher pay, holding teachers and schools harmless from poor ILEARN test scores and repealing the 15-hour externship for re-licensing.

The Indiana State Teachers Association codified the three priorities in a legislative agenda Thursday, asking legislators to re-open the budget to send an additional $75 million to school districts to raise teacher base pay by using excess revenue money.

“I think it’s short-sighted on the part of our legislators to not act now when they have the ability,” Keith Gambill, the ISTA president, said. “It’s a short session. It’s not a budget year. They’re absolutely correct on both of those points but they have the ability to act on it.”

Key lawmakers, including Governor Eric Holcomb and House Speaker Brian Bosma, have said they would hold teachers and schools harmless, meeting one of the association’s demands. But legislators seem wary of increasing salaries or opening up the budget, preferring to wait for recommendations from the Teacher Compensation Commission.

With recommendations expected in the spring, Holcomb said he wanted to lift teacher salaries to be one of the top three salaries in the Midwest.

“Let’s face it. The governor isn’t going to get us into the top three in the region by suppressing Illinois’ pay scale, they’re going to have to lift the salaries of Indiana teachers,” Gambill, a middle school music teacher in Evansville, said. “To think that we can wait a year and we’re going to be closer to meeting that goal is short-sighted.”

Holcomb announced he preferred to make the 15-hour re-licensing externship, which requires teachers to learn about their communities’ workforce needs, optional but didn’t commit to decoupling test scores from teacher evaluations. Bosma previously said he would be open to exploring both requests.

Gambill cautioned against using the school system solely to fill available jobs, which could restrict students from exploring other opportunities or discourage continually learning.

“It’s important that we should not get into a situation where we are so narrowly defining students when they leave high school that we set some of them up for a job that won’t exist five years from now,” Gambill said.

To capture the limits of standardized testing, Gambill said that the tests measure the students on one day, rather than capturing the progress a student had made over the year. To better evaluate students, Gambill said research supported in-classroom evaluators.

“That’s the most effective way to evaluate our teachers and all of those are hired by our (local) school board of trustees,” Gambill said. “There should be greater trust placed in our local school districts to do the work.”

With over 400 job openings for teachers and thousands of students with semi-permanent substitutes or large classrooms, Gambill said legislators needed to take action on education. Otherwise, legislators would feel the effects at the voting booth.

“If [not acting is] the decision they’re going to make, then perhaps they shouldn’t be the person making the decision on the next budget,” Gambill said.

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