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The Journal Gazette

  • McDaniel

Tuesday, December 11, 2018 1:00 am


Economics lesson

Higher teacher pay should be lawmakers' priority

Any debate over teacher pay in the Indiana General Assembly's upcoming budget session should begin with a discussion of why the topic is an issue.

Across the nation, the average teacher salary is 1.6 percent lower than it was in 1999 when adjusted for inflation. In Indiana, the inflation-adjusted average teacher salary is 16 percent less than it was in 1999. 

Staffing shortages are the inevitable result of those shrinking paychecks. The latest annual survey of Indiana school districts found 91 percent of superintendents reported difficulty filling teaching jobs this fall. Terry McDaniel, professor of educational leadership at Indiana State University, told the Tribune-Star in Terre Haute that the shortages continue because school districts “don't pay well” and teaching remains a tough job.

Indiana Department of Education data show 35 percent of teachers leave the field within their first five years of teaching. In a teacher survey conducted by the department, 88 percent of Indiana educators said they were dissatisfied with their salary. Among those who indicated they were thinking of leaving the profession, pay was the No. 1 reason.

Those figures hold true for Fort Wayne Community Schools, where Julie Hyndman, president of the Fort Wayne Education Association, noted about 200 teachers left the district last spring. About three-quarters of the departures were resignations, not retirements.

“I hear that many of our teachers are leaving because of the wages,” she said Monday. “There are just so many requirements today for our teachers. If they were to figure their hourly wage, it would be quite small.”

Gov. Eric Holcomb, however, doesn't appear to sense any urgency in addressing teacher pay. The legislative agenda he announced last week calls for a study of teacher pay, not increases. Pay raises might not happen until subsequent years, he suggested.

“We want to do it right, and it's a big number. We have some ground to make up here,” Holcomb said. “And we want to ... make sure we are showing local communities that the state is investing in them.”

“What is he waiting on?” Hyndman asked. “This trend has been going on for years now. The demoralization of teachers has been going on since (former state superintendent) Tony Bennett. I'm very disappointed by this. The need is there; the evidence is there.”

Public support is there, as well. The Indiana State Teachers Association, of which the Fort Wayne Education Association is an affiliate, released its own legislative agenda Monday, calling for elected officials to make teacher compensation a priority in the upcoming session. Officials cited a recent ISTA poll which found that 72 percent of Hoosiers believe educators are underpaid; 86 percent support increased public-school funding if it includes a requirement to spend more of it in the classroom. 

The average teacher salary in Indiana is $54,308, according to the National Education Association.

Teacher salaries and overall education spending aren't the same thing, of course. Indiana ranks 34th for per-pupil spending among the 50 states and District of Columbia, but Hoosiers support three school systems.

In addition to traditional public schools and public charter schools, taxpayers spent $153 million in 2017-18 on private-school vouchers. More than half of Indiana's voucher students never attended a public school.

A majority of Indiana lawmakers and the Republican administration have enthusiastically supported charter and voucher expansions. They issued no calls for studying the impact on the state budget as they made vouchers available to additional families. They have not called for examining how voucher dollars are spent in private schools. 

When the budget session begins Jan. 3, lawmakers must be mindful of the effects their education-spending decisions already have had on the teaching profession and must take care not to exacerbate the problems with studies that pit public school districts against their own teachers. 

State superintendent Jennifer McCormick, in a news release commenting on the governor's legislative priorities, seems to get it right. She pledged to support Holcomb's legislative agenda where it aligns with her own department's goals. 

“The Indiana Department of Education will advocate for nothing less than a fiscally responsible and student-centered outcome to the 2019 legislative session, which must also empower, respect and reward educators,” she said in a news release.