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Frankfort Education Association holds walk-in

RED FOR ED: Thousands came to the Statehouse on Saturday for the Red for Ed Rally, including many from Frankfort, some of which staged a walk-in on Wednesday morning at Frankfort High School.

By AARON KENNEDY - akennedy@ftimes.com

About 30 educators put their “Red for Ed” T-shirts on and greeted students in the rain as they arrived at Frankfort High School before the start of school hours Wednesday morning.

The walk-in was organized by members of the Frankfort Education Association with the purpose of showing its support for teachers and spreading awareness of its push for increased funding for education in Indiana.

“We spoke to them as they came in and encouraged them to have a great day,” said Jason Fortner, president of the Frankfort Education Association. “It was a pretty positive response, all-around.”

Fortner says that the walk-in has nothing to do with the actions of the school board, but with the state.

“We had several administrators out there with us,” Fortner said. “This is a state issue. Community Schools of Frankfort has been great about doing everything in their power to give the students all they need and give teachers the best pay they can, but they just do not have the money to give. I have been the union president for four or five years now and have a really good relationship with (CSF Superintendent) Don DeWeese and the board. They have done everything they can to help us teachers out, but the money coming in from the state has been scarce since 2011. They really cut our funding. We are only now getting back to the same funding level that we were at at that time. Given raises in the cost of living, that means we are way behind the curve.”

Teacher pay has recently been recognized by the legislature and Gov. Eric Holcomb, who proposed freeing up $140 million in funding for teacher pay during his State of the State Address in January. Since then, Indiana House Republicans proposed spending more, calling for a 2.1 increase next year, followed by another 2.2 percent increase in 2021. But, many teachers and the Indiana State Teachers Association believe that, while it is good that the issue is being recognized, the increases in funding are inadequate considering the needs of many school districts across the state.

Fortner joined other local educators at the Red for Ed Rally at the Statehouse on Saturday.

“We had about 20 percent of our membership that I saw, maybe more,” Fortner said. “That is about four times the average turnout, so we are very motivated.”

One of the educators who attended the Red for Ed Rally was FHS English teacher Natalie Guest, who said that the chief issues they would like to see addressed are “costly and ineffective standardized testing, low teacher pay leading to high turnover and the huge funding diversion of public monies to private, for-profit voucher and charter schools.

“Frankfort teachers love their students and have their best interest at heart,” Guest said. “Students are losing many hours of classroom instruction to expensive and flawed standardized testing. Students deserve maximum quality instruction time, not hours spent filling in bubbles and checking boxes on a screen.

“Indiana ranks near the bottom for teacher pay,” she continued. “Half of teachers leave the profession in the first five years, and often because they can’t make a living off the salary or must work two, three or even four jobs to make ends meet. High teacher turnover is damaging for students and results in a diminished educational experience. We need to keep the best teachers, so our kids get the best education. As our schools continue to stretch dollars to make ends meet, our kids continue to suffer from high stakes standardized testing and high teacher turnover. Every kid deserves a champion, and all kids deserve dedicated teachers who make a career out of teaching. Frankfort Education Association members will continue to work for the betterment of schools for the success of all students.”

Fortner says that those who agree that Indiana's schools should be more adequately funded should contact their representative and demand increased funding for public education.

“We are asking for increased money for teachers salaries for sure, but we are not just griping,” he said. “There is a real reason why we need that. Over 50 percent of teachers stop within the first three to five years because of the money. You are just hitting your stride as a teacher in three to five years. We have good people who bail out because they are stuck at $35,000 forever until the state gives more money.

"We might try this again without the rain,” he added. “We are continuing to contact local media and our legislators to let them know they are the ones who need to do this. We do not have the power to do it ourselves. We can stand up and make the demands, but they are the ones who make the laws.”