The Journal Gazette
Sunday, March 15, 2020 1:00 am

General Assembly

Ignoring pay hikes irks teachers union

Told to wait another year as session closes

NIKI KELLY | The Journal Gazette

INDIANAPOLIS – Lawmakers wrapped the 2020 legislative session last week but left one of the state's biggest issues untouched – teacher pay.

And now that the state – and the world – is experiencing a global health pandemic, it might be even harder to raise the salaries of Indiana's teachers.

“January is a long way away. It is our hope that our economy continues to grow and be robust as it has in the last several years,” Senate President Pro Tem Rodric Bray said. “We're dealing right now with some serious challenges ... and we are going to begin to feel some economic effects there. So I'm not going to have any comments on what we are going to be able to do with teacher pay in January because I don't know what the economy is going to look like in January.”

Indiana teachers make an average salary of $50,554 but starting salaries can be as low as $30,000. The average pay in nearby states is higher, such as $61,600 in Illinois and $57,000 in Ohio, according to the National Center for Education Statistics.

A state report last year found that it would take an additional $658 million to make salaries more competitive here.

Republican leaders chose not to address the issue this year because it was not a budget session.

A task force appointed by Gov. Eric Holcomb – the Teacher Compensation Commission – is working to develop a sustainable plan. Recommendations are expected this summer.

During session, Democrats tried to direct excess cash in the state reserves to one-time teacher bonuses but were rebuffed.

Sen. Tim Lanane, D-Anderson, said it is a concern that legislators missed the opportunity they had to address the matter.

“Now, who knows what we're going to have to do with this health care crisis,” he said.

The Indiana State Teachers Association lauded the Legislature for two key education changes – holding teachers harmless from drops in standardized testing scores and repealing a professional externship requirement.

And a bonus bill permanently decouples teacher evaluations from test scores.

But ISTA President Keith Gambill said they whiffed on teacher pay.

“Lawmakers had a chance to provide a good-faith down payment on teacher pay using the state's budget surplus, but they elected to do nothing. Indiana has lost yet another year, falling behind our neighboring states in catching up with teacher pay,” he said.

Gambill noted that Holcomb has promised to put Indiana in the top three states in the region for teacher pay and “our members will expect nothing less. We will also be asking our members to demand that candidates make public education a top issue for the upcoming election.”

They are pushing specifically for the average teacher salary to reach $60,000.

House Speaker Todd Huston said there is no way he can predict what will happen in 2021 – especially with the complications of the coronavirus.

“I think we all are interested in rewarding great teachers but it's impossible to see the future,” he said.

“The economic impact of some of the announcements ... will have real implications to state finances and to Hoosiers. That's going to be a big driver to see what the economic and public health implications are of the virus. Once we get through the summer and we have a better indication of that we'll start building the 2021 agenda.”

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