Sarah Rhea, a senior education major at IPFW, said she’s not going into teaching to get rich.
"I have never been in the mindset to go into teaching for the money," Rhea said. "I’ve chosen this as a passion to help change lives and to help better lives."
Lucky for Hoosier students that there are still young people like Rhea and her friend, Kaitlyn Biere, who want to teach no matter what they’ve heard about pay, negativity and teacher evaluations.
Enrollment in local college education departments has dropped since 2011. Educators say that drop coincided with measures taken by former Gov. Mitch Daniels and the Republican-dominated state legislature that threw out the step-salary schedule in favor of a yearly teacher stipend or bonus, based on teacher evaluations. Collective bargaining was also diminished.
Teachers used to know their pay would rise with each negotiated contract, according to what the district could afford. This was known as a step schedule. Now teacher pay is more uncertain, linked to evaluations, and pay raises often come in the form of a yearly stipend or bonus.
School districts are reporting fewer candidates for open positions.
A state legislative committee and one at the Indiana Department of Education are looking at ways to respond to the shortage and to retain teachers.
And despite a 33 percent drop in new teacher licenses since 2010, a Ball State researcher disputes there even is a shortage. Meanwhile, local districts are being creative in finding ways to give raises to keep the teachers they have.
IPFW saw the numbers drop in its College of Education in 2010 from more than 1,000 to about 600, a number that has stayed about the same.
At Manchester University, enrollment went from 244 in 2010 to 152 last year.
At Grace College, there were 265 enrolled in 2010; last year, 186. Numbers are also down at Trine University and Huntington College.
At the University of Saint Francis, numbers fell from about 150 to about 100 for the same period, according to Dan Torlone, chairman of the education department. Torlone said he could not pinpoint the reasons.
Changes have happened so quickly that educators are loath to identify just one reason there might be fewer students entering the education field or staying in it.
And fewer students seeking teacher licenses brings almost sure employment, said Terri Swim, IPFW chair of the Department of Educational Studies.
On the other hand, fewer teaching candidates could mean school districts fighting over potential hires. Already Swim has had phone calls from districts asking if her student teaching candidates can be the teacher of record, essentially the classroom teacher.
A report from the state Department of Education released a month ago said the number of teacher licenses issued this year showed a 21 percent drop from the previous year. The 3,800 licenses issued in 2015 represent a 33 percent decrease since 2010.
Swim blames the drop in enrollment on legislative changes and negativity directed toward teachers.
"Some of those laws more specifically are about how teachers are evaluated and the use of standardized tests to evaluate teachers," Swim said.
"The reality is there are many variables that go into whether or not a student is going to be successful."
Nationally and around the state, alarm bells have been sounded. State Superintendent of Public Instruction Glenda Ritz has formed a commission to find ways to recruit and retain teachers. Sen. Dennis Kruse, R-Auburn, chairman of the education committee and state Rep. Robert Behning also lead a legislative study committee examining why fewer people are choosing to become teachers.
Kruse said the teacher shortage is not apparent yet, but it is trending that way.
A report from the Center for Business and Economic Research at Ball State described the shortage as anecdotal.
Author Michael Hicks, the center’s director, said there is "no evidence of teacher shortages other than anecdotes some districts are seeing fewer applicants," but there is a "skills mismatch." His research finds there is an excess supply of teachers overall but not enough who can instruct STEM (science, technology, engineering and math), special education and technology education specialties.
His recommendation is to loosen licensing restrictions to recruit STEM teachers and issue emergency licensing immediately in those areas.
One reason often floated for the flagging enthusiasm for teaching is pay.
Public school districts are not in a position to bargain for a teacher. Base salaries are set by teacher contracts, negotiated every one or two years, a requirement set by the state legislature. Step salaries were part of teacher contracts that set pay raises negotiated by teacher unions.
Now pay boosts are often yearly stipends or bonuses linked to teacher evaluations. Only teachers rated "highly effective" or "effective" receive the stipends.
Salaries and benefits are paid out of the general fund, a legislature-generated fund. Other school costs such as transportation, bus replacement and capital projects are funded through local taxpayers, and are now restricted by state-mandated tax caps.
"It’s really sobering once you lock your school corporation into those new parameters. You’re really freezing the salary schedule," said state Rep. Melanie Wright, D-Yorktown, elected in 2014. Wright has been a public school educator for 28 years and teaches at Daleville Community Schools, not far from Anderson.
The only leeway could be a signing bonus for a teacher, if the school corporation can afford it, Wright said. "If you get more money, then you can possibly raise those salaries at the base, but that’s not guaranteed."
That’s what Southwest Allen County Schools was able to do this fall when a slight windfall in its general fund allowed it to give a one-time, 6.1 percent bump to the average returning teacher in a new one-year contract.
Not so at Fort Wayne Community Schools, an urban district that lost out on general fund dispersal. The district eked out a salary equalization effort and teacher stipends paid for with a federally funded Teacher Incentive Fund.
East Allen County Schools has yet to operate under the 2011 contract rules set by the state legislature, but a five-year contract runs out July 1 when the district will then be bound to the new contract rules.
There have been no changes to the teacher contract at Northwest Allen County Schools, NACS Superintendent Chris Himsel said.
Currently, the teaching profession is considered at the top of Hoosier Hot 50 Jobs in northeast Indiana, according to a report Indiana Department of Workforce Development released in late September.
The list identifies the jobs expected to be most in demand over the next decade.
The average pay in 2013 for preschool, primary, secondary and special ed teachers is $49,453, behind registered nurses at about $52,000. The field is expected to grow by about 9 percent by 2022.
"We need to find a way to get teachers more money," said Kruse, who acknowledged the downward trend of enrollment in college education departments. "Pay is a big part of the problem."
Two changes this year could aid in getting more money, he said. One is a school district’s ability to use up to one-third of the general fund for incremental teacher pay raises.
Another rule, as of July 1, is that 50 percent of money used to pay teacher stipends can be applied to permanent raises.
Kruse attributes competing professional opportunities for the downward trend in education enrollment as well as the pay issue. More college students, male and female, are being pushed into STEM careers, such as engineering, for which the starting salary could easily be higher than teaching jobs.
He also said neither political party is to blame. The teacher shortage is the greatest in California, he said, where the legislature is dominated by Democrats.
Julie Hyndman, president of the Fort Wayne Education Association, said it is legislative actions that have brought about the problems.
"I hope that taxpayers do not condone Senator Kruse and Rep. Behning using their tax dollars to ‘study’ why we have a shortage of teachers in this state," Hyndman wrote in an email reponse. "The fault lies within their political party and the demoralizing attitudes they project on public education. Furthermore, our teachers have such a passion for their students and how to help them succeed. We know that each child is so much more than a test score. It’s time to require accountability for our legislators’ actions!"