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EDITORIAL: Let supply/demand shape teacher pay

February 6, 2016

Finally, lawmakers are recognizing the economic reality behind Indiana’s so-called teacher shortage.

House Republicans want to allow Indiana’s school corporations to pay more to teachers in hard-to-fill areas, such as math, science, special education and technology.

And they won’t have to get the approval of a teachers union to do so.

That’s the substance of a proposal in House Bill 1004. It would allow school districts to pay supplements, beyond the salary determined by a collective bargaining agreement, to any teacher in what the school defines as a “difficult to fill” area.

This idea would finally let schools adjust to the fact that nearly all other employers already pay more for some skills than others.

The median yearly wage of Hoosier education majors is $43,000, according to data compiled by the Georgetown Center on Education and the Workforce. But median wage is $54,000 for chemistry majors, $56,000 for biology majors and $68,000 for math majors. All of those stats are for Hoosiers with only bachelor’s degrees.

These disparities might not seem fair because the pay levels don’t hinge on individual achievement—years of education, years of experience or even teaching ability—but merely on what a person’s skills are worth to other employers.

But if a bank is willing to pay a math major $80,000 to help it make million-dollar-loan decisions, schools must compete with that reality—if they want teachers trained in math.

Already, thousands of Hoosiers trained as teachers do not work in the field, according to an October study by Ball State University economist Mike Hicks. There are roughly 60,000 K-12 teachers working in Indiana, but nearly 40,000 trained teachers not working in education.

Where there actually is a teacher shortage is in hard-to-fill areas. Hicks’ study, by examining K-12 job postings at the Indiana Department of Education, noted that teachers in the STEM disciplines—science, technology, engineering and math—as well as special education, are the ones in highest demand.

“Even with an excess supply of teachers overall, there are not enough teachers who can instruct STEM, special education and technology education specialties,” Hicks wrote.

HB 1004 is sure to be controversial. Teachers unions oppose pay differentials based on anything but years served and levels of education. And there is always envy when workers learn their peers make more than they do.

Some teachers worry that pay envy would spoil the spirit of collaboration they say is so critical in a teaching environment. That may be. But stirring up a bit of envy among the adults is a small price to pay for putting a teacher in front of students who truly has the knowledge kids need.

And, if the other teachers are really envious, perhaps HB 1004’s lesson in economics will spur more of them to go back to school to become math teachers.•

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