Democratic gubernatorial candidate Josh Owens on Thursday released his education platform, which calls for a minimum salary for teachers and the creation of an education endowment fund.
Owens, one of three Democrats hoping to challenge Republican Gov. Eric Holcomb next year, would cap the state’s rainy day fund—which makes up part of the $2 billion budget surplus—at $300 million and put the excess funds into an endowment to support public education. The rainy day fund currently has more than $500 million.
He said the endowment would be structured in a way that’s similar to university endowments, with an expected annual market yield of 5% or higher. That would result in $120 million per year that Owens says he would require to be spent on teachers and classrooms.
Owen also is proposing a $50,000 minimum salary for teachers, which is the same minimum salary standard he set for employees as CEO of digital retail consultant SupplyKick, and would require school districts to provide cost-of-living salary increases every year.
The minimum salary suggestion is higher than what state Rep. Ed Delaney, D-Indianapolis, proposed earlier this week, but lower than what fellow Democratic gubernatorial candidate Eddie Melton has suggested.
In 2016-17, Indiana teachers made an average salary of $50,554, according to the National Center for Education Statistics, compared to $61,602 in Illinois and $57,000 in Ohio. Starting salaries in Indiana, however, can be as low as $30,000.
Delaney released a plan this week that suggested giving school districts incentives to set minimum pay at $40,000 and freeze corporate tax rates to pay for it.
Democrat Woody Myers, who is also running for governor, told IBJ he likes Delaney’s proposal and the idea of setting a statewide minimum salary for teachers. But he added that he thinks the bigger issue is the overall school funding formula.
“I do think that it’s time to rethink how we fund schools,” Myers said. “We need to look at how we are utilizing state funds from top to bottom.”
Melton, who is a first-term state senator from Gary, told IBJ this week that he believes teachers should be paid at least $60,000 annually.
“We have to support educators,” Melton said.
Melton said he heard from multiple teachers during the 2019 legislative session who took on extra jobs, like driving for Uber, to make enough money to support themselves.
Owens also plans on phasing out the school voucher program, which allows public dollars to follow students who choose to attend a private school instead of a public one. Currently enrolled voucher students would be allowed to continue to use voucher dollars until they leave the school, and siblings of currently enrolled voucher students could still enroll in the program.
Owens estimates this would redirect $160 million annually back to public education.
“Our investment in our public schools must be as big, as bold and as inclusive as the future we hope to achieve in our state,” Owens said in a statement. “It must draw excellent teachers into our system, pay them what they deserve and support our schools, our families, our students and our teachers fairly. And we must commit ourselves fully to ongoing investment well into our future.”