Educators and advocates are pushing state leaders to take action this year to raise teacher compensation—not to wait for additional research, as Indiana Gov. Eric Holcomb proposed last week.
“Our teachers have waited long enough,” said Teresa Meredith, president of the Indiana State Teachers Association, the state’s largest teachers union. “It doesn’t take a two-year study to discover what we already know: teachers need to be valued, respected, and paid as professionals.”
Holcomb’s proposal last week to study raises in the upcoming budget-writing session and make bigger steps in 2021 didn’t sit well with some, since lawmakers and advocates spent the fall talking up the need to make teacher salaries competitive with other states. But given the state’s tight budget situation, Holcomb suggested studying the impact of raises for at least a year, as well as looking at how much money would be needed and how districts would be expected to get the money to teachers.
The proposal drew quick criticism. Education leaders and advocacy groups took to Twitter to express their hopes that Holcomb and lawmakers would find ways to address teacher salaries this year as well as into the future.
“IN must respond now,” State Superintendent Jennifer McCormick tweeted Friday morning, remarking that too many teachers across the state are leaving the profession because pay is too low. “Kids deserve & depend upon excellent teachers.”
“We can’t wait to act because Hoosier children are counting on all us to come together to ensure our schools can attract and retain the best teachers,” Justin Ohlemiller, executive director of Stand for Children Indiana, said in a blog post titled “The time to act on teacher pay is now.”
ISTA’s 2019 legislative agenda, released Monday, will continue pushing for lawmakers and state leaders to find creative solutions to raise teacher pay and make Indiana competitive with other states.
And ISTA says they might have voters on their side. A recent ISTA poll of more than 600 Hoosiers, conducted by Emma White Research, shows that funding for education is a priority across the state, with more than 86 percent of those sampled supporting sending more money to public schools. About 72 percent of people polled believe educators are underpaid.
But it’s unclear if there would be enough money in the budget to spend on across-the-board raises after other funding obligations are met, such as funding needed by the Department of Child Services to deal with effects of the state’s opioid crisis. Senate Democrats have called for $81 million a year to ensure 5 percent raises for teachers and counselors over the next two years. Republicans have strong majorities in both chambers.
Neither ISTA, lawmakers, Holcomb nor other education groups have released specific plans for either how much they’d like to see set aside for teachers or strategies for how a pay increase could feasibly be carried out. However, the effort has brought together some unlikely allies—the union, a vocal advocate for traditional public schools, rarely aligns its education policy with groups like Stand and Teach Plus Indiana that have favored increased school-choice options, such as charter schools.
With limited dollars to go around, the focus will have to also be on how to make existing education dollars go farther, Meredith said. She, along with Republican House Speaker Brian Bosma, last month pointed to the need to curtail spending on administration, which, they argue, could free up money for other expenses such as teacher compensation.
Some have also pointed to the state’s recent budget surplus and reserves as evidence that Indiana could spend more on education if there was political will to do so.
“The surplus has come on the backs of educators and their students,” Meredith said. “Elected leaders must do more. They must do more to declare teacher pay a priority in this session, and they must take action.”
ISTA is also hoping lawmakers will act to:
— Restore collective bargaining rights so educators can negotiate work hours and class size, as well as salaries and benefits;
— Remove teacher evaluation results from decisions about salary until the state’s new ILEARN test has been in place for a few years;
— Invest in school counselors, psychologists, and social workers;
— Strengthen regulations for charter and virtual charter schools, including putting a moratorium on new virtual schools until those safeguards can be enacted;
— Study districts that have focused on how to best teach students who have experienced trauma.
Indiana’s next legislative session begins in January.
Chalkbeat is a not-for-profit news site covering educational change in public schools.