On Nov. 19, 2019, thousands of educators met on the Indiana Statehouse lawn during the Red for Ed rally, advocating for legislators to make public education a priority in a variety of ways.
A year later, the COVID-19 pandemic has prevented another in-person gathering for teachers, but local educators say the Red for Ed movement is still fighting to secure the future of public education for teachers, students, parents and school staff members.
Madison-Grant Teachers Association Co-President Beverly Doughty said it was encouraging to see so many educators in action at the rally last year.
“I’ve been part of ISTA and Madison-Grant Teachers Association for like 19, 20 years now. To see that many teachers get involved in something – there was a time period where it seemed like no one would get involved,” she said. “It was also nice to see how far we’ve come...Everybody’s realized the only way we can make change is if we all stand together.”
Like many districts around the state, the Marion Teachers Association (MTA) collaborated with the school board and administration to close schools for the day and chartered buses to take teachers to the rally. Music teacher Christina Huff said her whole family traveled to Indianapolis because she and her husband Josh, a fellow music teacher, believed it was important for their children to see the importance of the rally.
“There were people there early, and nobody was a stranger,” Huff recalled. “You could talk to anybody on the street who was there early and find out how far they drove to get there. We could look out our hotel room window the next morning and see all the people walking down to the rally. I really think it’s something for my kids that was really valuable. I don’t think they’ll ever forget it.”
Huff said since Red for Ed and continuing today, she has seen more people in the community understand the importance of the movement and support local teachers.
“Our school board and our superintendent endlessly support us, but in our community I’ve even had people say to me that they appreciate what we’re doing. I do think that the Red for Ed movement helped with that,” Huff said.
While many people see Red for Ed as simply a push to increase teacher pay, Doughty said the movement is fighting for better funding for schools across the board, not just with salaries. The need and fight for funding has become even more clear during the pandemic, she says, as schools struggle to socially distance overcrowded classrooms.
“Between COVID and Red for Ed, I think it’s both brought awareness to some of the things that we still need to fight for like the smaller classrooms and higher teacher pay,” she said. “I think we still need those. Those are things that still aren’t where they need to be.”
MTA President Scott Simpson agreed that COVID has put a spotlight on the issues Red for Ed was started around, with more parents in the community realizing the importance of teachers when they had to become teachers themselves during the stay-at-home order.
“I would say teachers are working harder now than they ever had...I don’t think people realize the amount of work that’s involved in virtual education when it’s done right,” Simpson said. “So one thing I hope Red for Ed is understood, it’s about equity in education, not just equality in education. In order for us to offer an equitable education, we need resources to do that for our students.”
Simpson and MTA Vice President and Discussion Chair Stephanie Holcomb said Red for Ed is about making sure schools are adequately staffed for the long-term future. That means adequate teacher pay to convince people to go into or stay in the teaching profession, but it also means districts hiring enough educational assistants, aides and other support staff needed to provide quality education.
“If something doesn’t happen significant, I mean teaching is definitely a calling I believe, but there are people who are called and said for that kind of money I’m not going and I’ll listen to a different calling,” Simpson said.
The Red for Ed movement also calls for ending or overhauling standardized testing and re-allocating the funds spent on tests like ILEARN to directly fund schools’ needs. ILEARN was canceled in the spring due to COVID-19, and Doughty said that has shown the test is unnecessary.
“I’m much more of a growth model, let’s just show growth, and you don’t need standardized testing to show the growth,” she said. “I think when they’re looking at all that, money would go so much further in, you know, putting extra teachers and assistants in the school to help serve the students.”
Simpson said many colleges are no longer requiring SAT scores from applicants, and he hopes state and federal leaders will recognize that standardized testing is not a valuable tool for assessment. Holcomb said standardized testing has always been flawed because it’s a snapshot of a student on one particular day that doesn’t account for any number of factors leading up to the day of the test.
Holcomb said teachers in the 20-25 year range of service like herself are a small group, and Red for Ed is also about retaining teachers for the long haul.
“Some of the younger teachers who come in and then don’t stick around because of what Scott said: I can make more money doing something else or they move to a different community or a different state where they might get paid more,” Holcomb said. “I know there’s talk of a teacher shortage. It’s no joke because people may join teaching for a year or two and then just not stick around or stay in the area.”
Despite no in-person rally this year, the Red for Ed movement continues. Doughty said COVID has made it harder for teachers to come together, but it has also added another issue they’re fighting for: keeping students, teachers and staff safe from the pandemic.
“I think trying to keep that momentum going that we need to stand together and we need to keep working towards fighting for the money for public education,” Doughty said. “I think we’re still fighting those battles, we need to still stay in a group to fight those battles and just fighting the way we can do that in our COVID society right now makes it kind of hard.”
Simpson said the state legislature needs to take action to better fund education this upcoming legislative session and budget cycle. Gov. Eric Holcomb had set up a commission on teacher pay – which Simpson noted didn’t have any teachers on it – but the final report of findings has been held up due to the pandemic.
Simpson said addressing educational issues isn’t a quick fix like when the state passed a gasoline tax increase to help pave Indiana’s crumbling roads. Training the next generation of teachers is at least a four-year process, he said, and the state can’t afford to wait till the next budget cycle to take action.
“I understand the decrease in state revenues, but I also understand if we don’t act now and act soon we’re not going to have people in our classrooms,” Simpson said. “If they don’t do something this year, that means it’s two more years after this which is really three more years after this because the budget doesn’t take effect till ‘21-’22, and boy if that’s the case there are a lot of people on my end of the spectrum that are ready to go...Something needs to be done this legislative session... I think we haven’t begun to see the implications of not funding education as it needs to be funded.”