Price tag steep to make teacher salary competitive in Indiana, report says

Indiana is so far behind neighboring states in teacher compensation that it would cost an estimated $658 million to make salaries more competitive, according to a new report released Tuesday.

That price tag for raising the average teacher pay in Indiana to $59,455, which the report says would put Indiana at a regional median for salaries, comes as state lawmakers search for ways to fund teacher raises.

“Teachers in Indiana are severely behind in terms of pay,” said Stand for Children Indiana Executive Director Justin Ohlemiller. “It’s clear Indiana must address this pay gap if we want to turn the tide on the shortage.”

Stand Indiana and Teach Plus Indiana, two charter-friendly groups that support parents and teachers, respectively, included the increased investment among three recommendations for the state legislature in order to address what they called “Indiana’s quiet teaching crisis.”

They highlighted that Indiana teachers have experienced a decrease in average pay over the years when taking inflation into account. In 2016-17, Indiana teachers made an average salary of $50,554, according to the National Center for Education Statistics.

Those low salaries drive many teachers to leave classrooms, the groups’ report said. Because they make less than other college-educated professions, Hoosiers are “penalized” for choosing to go into teaching.

The advocacy groups called on the state legislature to make a significant investment in teacher salaries, like Oklahoma did after teachers walked out last spring. By hiking taxes, Oklahoma poured more than $400 million into giving teachers raises averaging about $6,000 and increasing education funding.

Ohlemiller said the legislature, which has made increasing teacher salaries a top priority this year, is “on the right pathway.”

“What we want to see, though, is a more longer-term commitment and more investment in those key areas,” Ohlemiller said.

He noted that “there are no silver-bullet solutions,” and acknowledged that while the groups want to see action this year, they expect that it could take several years for big changes.

Republican Gov. Eric Holcomb has committed to spending reserves to free up $140 million over two years for schools to use for teacher raises, though the deal would likely unevenly benefit schools and might not result in bigger paychecks. Lawmakers are still working on other plans for increasing pay.

The advocacy groups are supporting Republican lawmakers’ calls for school districts to allocate more of their budgets to spend on teachers. Critics, however, worry that won’t guarantee pay raises since many districts are already cash-strapped.

The groups also back efforts to provide stipends to teachers who take on extra roles in schools, and they want additional funding for raises to be tied to a commitment by school districts to provide those supports to teachers, such as career ladders and early-career mentoring.

Those initiatives, the groups said, could cost another $10 million and $11 million, respectively, to design. Career ladders, modeled off strategies such as Opportunity Culture in Indianapolis Public Schools and TAP in other school districts, would also require additional stipends for teachers who take on leadership roles.

Career ladders would provide much-needed advancement opportunities for teachers, the report said. The groups’ survey of 400 teachers last year found that nearly two-thirds of district and charter school teachers who plan to leave in the next three years say they’re not satisfied with their career options as teachers.

“Too many teachers feel they’re on an island,” Ohlemiller said.

The groups also want to change teacher training to replace brief student-teaching stints with an intensive one-year paid residency supported by mentors, which would need ongoing funding.

These supports aim to reduce teacher turnover, eliminate teaching shortages, elevate respect for the teaching profession, and keep talented teachers in classrooms, the groups said.

Chalkbeat is a not-for-profit news site covering educational change in public schools.

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