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Gov. Eric Holcomb's teacher pay commission seems determined to do its work without interference by, well – teachers. After the seven-member panel, which includes no teachers, met for months in secret, it finally scheduled three public input sessions. But the meetings begin after most teachers return to school.
Holcomb's Next Level Teacher Compensation Commission was announced during the governor's State of the State address as part of an effort to “make teacher pay competitive with surrounding states.” A report from the Rockefeller Institute found Indiana educators, on average, made only $6,900 more a year in 2017 than they earned in 2002. That's the smallest pay increase in all 50 states and the District of Columbia. Adjusted for inflation, Indiana teacher salaries have decreased by 15% over the past 15 years, according to the Indiana Department of Education.
The commission tapped to address teacher salaries met five times in closed sessions. When asked about the secretive nature of the deliberations, chairman Michael L. Smith told Chalkbeat Indiana, an education news site, the members were gathering data and preparing for a series of meetings to gather public input this summer.
But the schedule announced last week includes no meetings before Aug. 19. Most Indiana school districts begin the academic year before that date. The session set for northern Indiana is in Elkhart on Tuesday, Aug. 27 – about two weeks after all Allen County teachers have returned to class.
The governor's teacher pay commission isn't alone in dragging its feet. The push for higher teacher salaries began long before this year's biennial budget was crafted, but no across-the-board pay increase was included after Republican budget leaders claimed the state faced a budget shortfall of nearly $100 million. Last week, Holcomb announced a surplus of more than $410 million.
But lawmakers didn't ignore education. They approved 53 new laws that affect public schools, including several unfunded mandates that will cut into whatever funds local districts might have been able to use for teacher salary increases. Numerous training programs, including a new seizure awareness training requirement for all school employees who have contact with students, require resources the legislature did not provide.
The legislature found money to increase funding for private and parochial school vouchers by $22.5 million over the biennium, however, and to increase the allocation all charter schools receive to pay for building, technology and transportation expenses from $500 per student to $750.
The teacher pay commission's report isn't expected until next summer, so any recommendations it offers won't be considered until the next two-year budget is due in 2021.
It's tough to believe members of the panel are truly interested in what educators have to say when teachers were shut out of early meetings and input sessions were scheduled after summer break. But it's still possible to submit comments if a weekday trip to Elkhart is not an option. Before class resumes, teachers and their supporters should speak up.