by Abdul-Hakim Shabazz
As you may be aware, on Tuesday, thousands of teachers are planning to rally at the Statehouse to express their displeasure over issues such as teacher pay, testing, and new professional licensing requirements. While I respect and encourage anyone who was a grievance with their government to peacefully protest and make their voices heard, it helps that when they do show up they are armed with the facts. I don’t think this will be the case with many of the protestors; in fact, I think Indiana’s teachers are being misled, miseducated, and misdirected on this issue. Let me walk you through each one.
If I’ve said it once, I’ve said it a thousand times, it’s the local school boards and unions which determine how much teachers get paid, not the state of Indiana. The state funds the operational costs of education through its student funding formula. Schools get money based on their number of students, and how many of those students fall into what we call for simplicity’s sake “economically challenged” backgrounds. The more students you have or, the more economically challenged kids you have, the more money you get, period.
Just this past session, schools got nearly $700 million in new funding, approximately $150 million of that came from the state paying off some of the schools’ teacher pension debt obligation. If I were a teacher, I’d want to know how much of that will make it to the classroom? The nonpartisan and highly respected, Indiana Fiscal Policy Institute did a study that showed that of all the money spent on schools, only 47 percent goes towards classroom instruction. And who makes that decision? That’s right, the local school districts.
When I heard Indiana teachers were not happy with new professional licensing requirements that they must get 15 hours of an externship, I did raise my eyebrows just a bit on that one. I am an attorney, and my wife is a physical therapist assistant, so we both have professional continuing education hours we have to get to keep our licenses current, but I was a little taken back by the new requirement for teachers, and then I went and got the facts.
First of all, these are not additional hours. They are included in the 90 hours of certification a teacher must receive, and it can be done over five years, i.e., three hours a year. Second, teachers don’t have to go to a job site, the company can come to them at the school and tell them what they need to know.
Also, teachers can fulfill that externship obligation by participating in a professional development program by the state, a local business, or a community partner that provides opportunities for school and employers to partner in promoting career navigation. Or they can participate in a professional development program that outlines the current and future economic needs of the community, state, nation, and globe and how these needs can be disseminated to students. The point of all this is to make sure teachers are in tune with the workforce needs of their community.
But most importantly, we are not talking about 15 additional hours of certification, it’s included in the 90 teachers must get already. And if you think about it, some schools are using professional development days to give teachers the day off to protest, when they could be using that day to knock out the externship requirement.
In this area, I have a lot more sympathy for teachers. With all the problems Indiana has been having with its testing procedures, I don’t blame them for wanting to be held harmless, at least for now. Which by the way, the Governor and top legislative leaders have already said they plan to do. Now demands that Indiana stop spending an estimated $100 million on testing and use that for teacher pay is probably one bite at the apple too many. Under federal rules, Indiana has to conduct testing, the trick is to figure out how to meet federal regulations and not spend every class day preparing for an exam.
So when teachers and their supporters show up Tuesday to protest, I will give them a big round of applause for peacefully expressing what they perceive are their grievances with their government. However, before they head down to protest or while they are in the car or the bus on the way down, they will do their homework so they can know for sure exactly what they’re coming down to protest. I’m sure the last thing they want is to be misled, misdirected and miseducated.
Abdul-Hakim is an attorney and the editor and publisher of IndyPolitics.Org. His opinions are his own, but you are welcome to adopt them if you wish.