The Journal Gazette
Sunday, June 30, 2019 1:00 am

Budget offers boost for Indiana educators

Our community is home to the best educators and schools in the state. To keep up our momentum, your House Republican lawmakers remain committed to investing in our students, teachers and schools, and ensuring they have the necessary tools and resources to be successful.

Educators are the keystone to our schools, and as the 2019 legislative session kicked off, we promised to look at ways to ensure educators receive competitive pay for their hard work and dedication.

This session ended on a high note for schools, and several new laws effective July 1 will provide historic investments in K-12 funding and establish innovative programs to put more dollars in teachers' pockets.

The average public school teacher salary in 2017 was $54,308, according to the National Education Association. When adjusted for cost of living, Indiana had the ninth-highest teacher pay in the country.

While salaries and benefits are determined at the local level through collective bargaining and budget decisions, money to pay educators comes from taxpayer dollars distributed to schools by the state. Our two-year state budget is responsibly balanced, maintains critical reserves and dedicates more than $763 million in new funding for K-12 education, with traditional public schools set to receive more than 93% of the total tuition support.

To directly benefit teachers, we increased funding from $30 million to $37.5 million per year for Teacher Appreciation Grants to reward effective and highly effective educators. We paid off a $150 million unfunded pension liability for Hoosier educators, generating an estimated $70 million in annual savings. Schools are encouraged to direct their savings toward increasing teacher pay.

In some Indiana schools, less than 60% of state funding makes it to the classroom, taking critical dollars away from students and teachers. To help ensure every dollar possible directly supports student learning, a new law strongly encourages local schools to dedicate at least 85% of their funding to classroom expenses. If traditional public schools meet this goal, teachers statewide could see a 5% salary increase. These budgetary guidelines will also help local schools prioritize their funding and reduce costly overhead expenses.

In addition to providing resources to schools, we established innovative programs to support educators and help them grow in their careers. A new law creates a one-year, paid teacher residency program for aspiring teachers to receive on-the-job training. This program provides aspiring teachers with critical classroom experience before entering the field while also giving them and their mentors a stipend.

Too often, highly qualified teachers look outside the classroom to earn more, and educators who leave the profession within the first five years frequently cite lack of support.

Under a new law, schools could receive grant money to create career ladders and mentorship programs. These programs allow veteran educators to earn more while continuing to work directly with students, and help new teachers during their first years in the profession. Successful mentor programs could also help close the gaps that current professional development programs do not meet.

Many of our efforts this year were part of a collaboration between lawmakers and teacher organizations such as the Indiana State Teachers Association, Teach Plus and Stand For Children. By working together, we found solutions and took significant steps to support students and educators in our communities and across the state.

About the authors

This piece was submitted by State Reps. David Abbott, R-Rome City; Martin Carbaugh, R-Fort Wayne; Dave Heine, R-Fort Wayne; Matt Lehman, R-Berne; Chris Judy, R-Fort Wayne; Dan Leonard, R-Huntington; Bob Morris, R-Fort Wayne; and Ben Smaltz, R-Auburn.

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