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The Journal Gazette

Monday, January 07, 2019 3:30 pm

Higher teacher pay in House GOP vision for legislative session

NIKI KELLY | The Journal Gazette

INDIANAPOLIS -- House Republicans on Monday laid out their vision for the 2019 legislative session, highlighted by a push to raise teacher pay.

Also high on the list is passing a balanced budget and giving the Department of Child Services new funding and support.

Lawmakers provide funding for K-12 schools every year via the state' tuition support formula. But local school boards decide where to spend the money and bargain with teachers on pay.

That is why House Speaker Brian Bosma said his caucus want to set a goal of getting 85 percent of those state dollars into the classroom -- and will produce a report showing what districts meet it or not.

"This is not a mandate," he said. "This is a guideline."

Schools as of Jan. 1 have an Education Fund and Operations Fund. The Education Fund is where state tuition dollars go, while operations have local property tax dollars. Each school board has to pass a resolution on how much it will transfer out of education into operations for expenses such as human resources, utilities and food service.

Bosma said anecdotal reports show some districts making large transfers and others much smaller. Conventional wisdom was the average transfer would be between 18 percent and 20 percent, so Republicans worked with stakeholders to come up with the 85 percent number to stay.

He described tracking -- and publicizing -- this statistic as a stick in putting pressure on local boards to put money toward salaries instead of administration.

Bosma said if the state can increase the average going to the classroom by 5 percent it would increase statewide teacher pay by $350 million.

Indiana State Teachers Association President Teresa Meredith said her organization supports improving public education for all students regardless of ZIP code.

She said Bosma's commitment on teacher pay is a good first-step in delivering quality public education and recognizing teachers as the professionals they are.

"Indiana teacher salaries still lag salaries in surrounding states. It’s time to set a concrete goal to make teacher pay in the Hoosier state competitive with those of our neighbors," Meredith said. "ISTA looks forward to continuing to work with legislators and the governor throughout the session on this critical issue.”

Bosma promised an increase for K-12 education but couldn't be specific on the number. Each 1 percent increase in the formula statewide costs about $70 million. And lawmakers have a tight budget already because of increased needs for Medicaid and abused and neglected children.

House Republicans also want to focus on getting teachers to stay in the classroom through a $5 million classroom leader program and a $1 million residency pilot program.

Bosma said the legislature will continue the additional $5 million in school safety funding that lawmakers added in a special session in May. That money will focus both on buildings and mental health.

Another major priority would be to exempt military pensions from the state income tax. Gov. Eric Holcomb pushed unsuccessfully for this last year. It would cost the state millions in tax revenue, but many other states provide the perk.

House Democrat Leader Phil GiaQuinta, of Fort Wayne, downplayed the agenda -- saying Republicans talk but Hoosiers need action.

“Republicans continue to talk about the same things: Maintaining an honestly balanced budget…as if our state Constitution doesn’t now require it. Education funding…which usually means more experimentation with the education-for-profit industry. Workforce development…which generally leads to additional tax credits for large corporations," he said.

“Will any of this help Hoosiers? As we have seen in recent years, those who are in charge find it better to talk about such things, instead of working to find pragmatic solutions to real issues."

nkelly@jg.net