As late as 1850, Indiana did not have a state-supported school system. Access to education was inadequate with the few locally supported schools charging tuitions or subscriptions to attend or limiting attendance to only white students. A group of forward-thinking educators and education supporters identified the need for an educated citizenry for the future health and stability of the state.
These public education supporters began advocating for a statewide public school system. The 1850 – 1851 constitutional convention directed the General Assembly, “to provide by law for a general and uniform system of common schools wherein tuition shall be without charge and equally open to all.” Under this direction, the legislature passed a statute levying state and local taxes to build and equip schools. However, the Indiana Supreme Court found the taxation of townships for the purpose of education to be unconstitutional. This detrimental ruling spurred public education supporters to action.
In December 1854, 175 public education supporters met in Indianapolis to form the Indiana State Teachers Association. Since its formation, ISTA has addressed issues such as the credentialing, institutionalizing, and professional development of educators, salary and benefits of educators, extending and standardizing the school year, ensuring access for all students, and of course, advocating for a robust allocation of state and local funding for the betterment of public education.
The lasting legacy of the Indiana State Teachers Association is a free public education system, open to every student in all communities across the state.