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Join together to attract and retain educators

Sandra Vohs contributed this article to the fall 2021 Advocate. Vohs has been a professional educator for more than twenty years as a teacher and instructional coach. She currently serves as the president of the Fort Wayne Education Association.

Since 2011, collective bargaining for teachers in Indiana has been limited to only two items - wages and wage-related benefits. During that same period, funding for public schools decreased and salaries for educators stagnated. This resulted in Indiana's teachers earning significantly less than teachers in all the surrounding states. In 2019, after years of ignoring the problem, Gov. Eric Holcomb created a task force to determine what would constitute competitive pay for Hoosier teachers and make recommendations about how to get there. Nearly two years later, the Next Level Teacher Compensation Commission issued a report with recommendations about how to raise teacher pay. 

Fortunately, Indiana's most recent biennial budget included record-breaking increases to public education. Now it's up to collective bargaining teams statewide to ensure that increasing teacher salaries transitions from a goal to a reality. The state is recommending a $40,000 minimum starting salary for teachers, and ISTA is also aiming for a $60,000 average teacher salary. The disproportionate school funding formula still favors suburban schools over rural and urban districts. Indiana's micromanagement of the bargaining process for teachers, and restrictions about how pay increases can be implemented, also create special challenges for bargaining teams. Still, this year's opportunity to negotiate salary increases for Hoosier teachers is unprecedented thanks in large part to the influence of the Red For Ed movement. Red For Ed helped shift public and political attitudes about the value of teachers and the long-term damage caused by underfunding Indiana's public schools. 

With the stat's official bargaining window at the mid-way point, Red For Ed events can continue to build solidarity and keep the focus on increasing teacher pay as well as other issues important to teachers. 

Bargaining teams know that teacher pay isn't just about dollars from the state, it is also about the advantages of having a salary schedule with clearly delineated steps into a secure professional future. It's about balancing increases to starting teacher pay with raises to the salaries of experienced teachers who have long been underpaid. And it's about offering compensation for advanced degrees and extracurricular responsibilities. While the recent funding increases to public education are a big step in the right direction, the state's declared goals for teacher pay won't be financially possible for many school systems. But money isn't everything. 

The focus on teacher pay is long overdue, but so is expanding bargaining rights to give teachers a voice in school health and safety, class sizes, prep time, staffing and students' access to music, art and recess. This round of bargaining needs to be focused on increasing teacher salaries, but it is also the perfect time to remind teachers, parents and politicians that teachers' working conditions are students' learning conditions, and expansion of bargaining rights is the best way to attract and retain teachers while improving the overall quality of education for Indiana's students. 

Local Red For Ed Actions

Wear red on Wednesdays.

Organize a morning walk-in.

Show up en masse and speak up at school board meetings.

Participate with and inform community members about the value of expanding bargaining rights.

Connect with and inform community members about the value of expanding bargaining rights.