Indiana teachers use 'outside voices' to demand higher wages

INDIANAPOLIS (Reuters) - Thousands of chanting red-clad Indiana teachers swarmed the state capitol on Tuesday, demanding higher salaries and reforms to evaluation policies in a protest that forced half the state’s school districts to cancel classes for the day.

“It’s time to use our ‘outside voices,’” read one of the signs hoisted by largely peaceful Indiana State Teachers Association demonstrators wearing red hats and sweaters as they stood at the steps of the capitol, some beating on 5-gallon paint barrels as improvised drums.

The “Red for Ed” protest was the latest in a wave of work stoppages by U.S. educators. In 2018, teachers in Arizona, West Virginia and Oklahoma staged largely successful days-long strikes to demand higher salaries.

Teachers in Chicago and Los Angeles also went on strike this year and secured more resources, especially for underfunded schools. [nL2N27G1IO]

“You trust us to educate the future. Trust us when we say we need more. More funding, more say and more respect,” said Amy Moore, a visual arts teacher in southwest Indiana.

Indiana teachers make an average of $51,000 a year, in the bottom third of their U.S. counterparts, according to the National Education Association, the country’s largest labor union. The state school system has about 1.2 million students.

Teachers in the Midwestern state are asking the Republican-controlled state legislature to commit $700 million this year to boost the average salary statewide to $60,000, near the national average.

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Extra police officers handled crowd control as several hundred teachers protested inside the capitol building.

Indiana House Speaker Brian Bosma, a Republican, welcomed teachers to the capitol on Tuesday.

“There are so many of you here today, you are going to have a lot of ideas and we are open to hearing them,” he said.

The teachers’ union expected some 15,000 teachers to use personal days to walk off the job as Indiana’s state law blocks them from striking. The state’s department of education could not confirm the number of teachers who were expected to attend.

Still, so many teachers had signed up for the protest that half the state’s 289 school districts have canceled classes, the union said.

State teachers are asking lawmakers to prevent new standardized testing scores from counting against teacher and school evaluations for this school year. They are also seeking to repeal a new law that requires them to take private-sector jobs for a time to renew their teaching licenses.

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Republican Governor Eric Holcomb set up a commission to provide recommendations on teachers’ salaries before the 2021 legislative session.

Reporting by Bryan Woolston in Indianapolis and Brendan O’Brien in Chicago; Editing by Scott Malone and Matthew Lewis