Teachers union chief blames Indiana teacher shortage on policymakers' disrespect for educators

Teresa Meredith, president of the Indiana State Teachers Association, said Thursday the lack of respect shown for educator opinions by state policymakers, particularly the State Board of Education, has helped cause Indiana's teacher shortage.

Dan Carden, The Times

INDIANAPOLIS — The president of the state's largest teachers union is not surprised Indiana has a teacher shortage, since she contends Hoosier policymakers consistently disregard teacher input when making important education decisions.

Teresa Meredith, leader of the Indiana State Teachers Association, said Wednesday's decision by the State Board of Education to adopt new high school graduation requirements, despite nearly six hours of testimony by classroom teachers, guidance counselors, school principals and district superintendents against approval, is "just another blazing example" of why educators feel disrespected.

"We came together in a collective voice with parents to say we have some real concerns about this issue," Meredith said Thursday. "We had the state superintendent who didn't want what happened yesterday to happen.

"They ignored that."

Meredith said she believes several state School Board members who supported the proposal, all of whom were appointed by Republican Gov. Eric Holcomb or House Speaker Brian Bosma, R-Indianapolis, had their minds made up before hearing any educator testimony.

In particular, she said the attempt by Tony Walker, a board member from Gary, to limit public testimony to two minutes or less showed that he had no real interest in hearing from those who will have to implement the policies the board enacts.

"That's just one example of the many, many ways that educators have been disrespected in this state," Meredith said.

Walker disputed the idea that graduation pathways needed more consideration prior to board approval — "I just don't buy that."

"We've been working with this for months, literally, and I think it creates some great options for kids," Walker said.

"Most of the arguments that we heard on pushback really had to do with the changes that the school districts were going to need to make in terms of personnel, administration and that type of thing. Almost none of the arguments really were on the impact to kids."

Under graduation pathways, which first applies to the class of 2023, students will have to fulfill additional tasks to demonstrate both work-ready skills and post-secondary education preparedness — in addition to completing a traditional academic program — to earn their diplomas.

The change aligns with Holcomb's goal of transforming Indiana's education system into an employment skills training pipeline for Hoosier businesses.

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Dan is Statehouse Bureau Chief for The Times. Since 2009, he's reported on Indiana government and politics — and how both impact the Region — from the state capital in Indianapolis. He originally is from Orland Park, Ill.