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May 10, 2013

New teachers’ union president seeks renewed respect, clout for educators

INDIANAPOLIS —

The new president of the Indiana State Teachers Association has a challenge for legislators responsible for the fast and furious changes in public education over the last four years: You try teaching.

Teresa Meredith, elected to head ISTA in late April, believes lawmakers might benefit from seeing the impact of school funding cuts, more high-stakes testing, and tougher scrutiny of teachers and schools.

“Really, I dare any legislator to take over a kindergarten class. And not just for a day, I’d expect them to do the job for a while,” Meredith said. “I don’t think most of them would survive a semester.”

She does think they’d come away with more respect for a profession that feels under siege by education reformers. “I think they’d say, ‘These teachers know what they’re doing.’”

Meredith, a longtime kindergarten teacher in Shelbyville, steps into  the role as the public face of the state’s largest teachers’ union at a time when the organization has lost much of its considerable clout.

The association, which represents about 45,000 teachers and support staff, failed to fight off the sweeping reforms ushered in by Republicans who control the Statehouse. ISTA unsuccessfully opposed a significant rollback of teachers’ collective bargaining rights and legislation that tied teacher pay to student test scores. It protested in vain against spending cuts to K-12 public schools and lost its legal fight to stop the private school voucher program that the General Assembly just expanded. 

Its reputation and finances are still suffering from the 2009 collapse of  the ISTA insurance trust, triggered by massive investment losses of more than $24 million. ISTA is still entangled in a federal lawsuit, brought by the state, alleging the losses were tied to securities fraud. 

Meredith, who served as vice president since 2007 under her predecessor, Nate Schnellenberger, praised his leadership. 

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