Drop in number of new Indiana teachers could get state review

Two leading sponsors of many recent Indiana education overhaul measures now want the Legislature to consider steps for possibly stemming the state's declining number of new teachers.

The Republican chairmen of the House and Senate education committees have asked General Assembly leaders to approve having the legislative education study committee review what is causing the drop and how the state could respond.

The head of the state's largest teachers union, meanwhile, said Republican-backed changes imposed on schools in the last several years have contributed to making teaching careers less appealing.

The number of first-time teaching licenses issued has dropped about 60 percent since 2009, according to the Indiana Department of Education. That decline has some school district officials worried about being able to fill open teaching positions.

House education committee Chairman Robert Behning, R-Indianapolis, and Senate education committee Chairman Sen. Dennis Kruse, R-Auburn, said in their letter dated Thursday they "think it would be wise for the Indiana General Assembly to proactively address this issue."

They suggested having the committee members hear from experts and teachers about the decline.

"We believe it is important to have a plan to the matter issued prior to the 2016 legislative session," they said.

The rhetoric used by legislators to push through school overhaul proposals has hurt the teaching profession's reputation, said Teresa Meredith, president of the 45,000-member Indiana State Teachers Association.

Meredith said state school funding constraints and standardized testing pressures are in contrast to the strong support teachers receive from parents and local administrators.

"We certainly aren't hearing or seeing that from the state — the governor and the Legislature," she said.

Education changes supported by Behning and Kruse in recent years include creation of the state's private-school voucher program, new evaluations for teachers using students' standardized test scores and not allowing pay raises for lower-rated teachers.

The Indiana Department of Education reports the state issued 16,578 licenses to first-time teachers, including teachers with licenses in multiple subject areas, in the 2009-2010 school year. That number dropped to 6,174 for the 2013-14 school year.

Many of the state's colleges have seen fewer students in their education programs, with Ball State University's elementary and kindergarten teacher-preparation program enrollments have fallen 45 percent in the last decade.

A decision wasn't immediately made on whether to go forward with the legislative study, said Ben Gavelek, a spokesman for House Speaker Brian Bosma.

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