Teachers Classroom

Raising teacher pay is going to be a big issue at the Indiana Statehouse this year.

Democrats and Republicans have both said increased funding for educators is on  their agendas, but there is little agreement about how to make that happen.

House Republicans want to drive more money into K-12 classrooms in an effort to raise teacher salaries, but only using existing resources.

Rep. Dale DeVon, R-Granger, is proposing legislation that would encourage Indiana school districts to transfer only 15 percent or less of their state money into its operational budget, which funds items like administrative costs, school safety and superintendents’ salaries. House Bill 1003 says districts should keep the remaining 85 percent for classroom instructional needs, including teachers’ paychecks.

“In the six years I’ve been here, I know we’ve given close to a billion dollars in education funding,” DeVon said in a House Education Committee meeting Wednesday. “It sounds really good, but is all that money going into the classroom?”

Nothing in this bill, however, says the savings from trimming operating costs must be passed on to teachers.

Rep. Ed DeLaney, D-Indianapolis, said DeVon’s bill has no real correlation with teacher pay, suggesting instead that the state raise its base pay for teachers to $40,000 statewide.

“We will increase the reputation of our state as a place where people want to teach,” Delaney said. “I think the focus on district-by-district and what are they doing and you have such different wealth capacity is of some help. But far more helpful if we could send a message to the country that Indiana will pay $40,000 to beginning teachers. We don’t care if you’re in the smallest town or poorest town or richest town. We’re going to set a benchmark.”

Stand for Children representative Mary Gardner offered support for HB 1003, calling it a first step to increasing teacher pay. Gardner cited a November survey of Indiana superintendents, completed by Indiana State University, that found 91 percent of districts had a teacher shortage issue, citing pay as a top reason.

“We believe that increasing teacher pay is critical to attracting the best and brightest individuals to the teaching profession, and we recognize that this bill will not immediately shift funding to teachers’ salaries,” Gardner said.

The bill plays off a new budgeting system Indiana schools adopted Jan. 1 — just 10 days ago. It directs state education money to a district’s education fund. The district can transfer money from its education fund, used for classroom instruction and teacher and principal salaries, to an operations fund. Previously, state money was deposited to a general fund, which combined instruction and operations.

Opponents of HB 1003 said it’s too early to make any changes to this system.

J.T. Coopman, executive director of the Indiana Superintendents Association, asked lawmakers Wednesday to consider giving schools more time to adjust to the changes before adding new spending goals in HB 1003.

Echoing Coopman’s request, Denny Costerison of the Indiana Association of School Business Officials, said local officials who worked on crafting the new budget system are disappointed in this move by the legislature.

“It became effective Jan. 1 of this year, and ‘OK, here we go again,’” Costerison said. “Something else we have to deal with.”

Rep. Bob Behning, R-Indianapolis, chairs the House Education Committee. A proponent for the bill, Behning reiterated the 15 percent target is “just a goal.” He said it does not include any sanctions in its current form.

But if districts spend more than 15 percent of their own state money on operations, the bill calls for placing them on a public list. If a district misses the 15 percent target two consecutive years, the Indiana State Board of Education could also require local school officials to explain their spending.

In a survey sent by the Indiana Superintendents Association Tuesday, Costerison said of the 170 responses he received from school officials, about 40 percent of districts spend 15 percent or less on operations. The remaining 60 percent spend more than 15 percent, he said.

The Indiana Department of Education also took a strong stance against HB 1003 Wednesday, focused on raising teacher pay. Mike Brown, Indiana Department of Education’s director of legislative affairs, said teacher salaries are a serious problem in Indiana, and there’s data to back that up.

“We all own this problem and must find a solution,” Brown said. “1003 is not that solution. It doesn’t guarantee any pay increases for teachers.”

Brown said cuts to districts’ operational budgets could also cause issues in funding transportation and school safety — two topics also taking priority in the legislature this year. He insisted K-12 schools need a 3 percent spending increase, included in the DOE’s budget.

HB 1003 passed the House Education Committee Wednesday by a 9-3 party line vote. It will now go to the House Ways and Means Committee.

Shelby Mullis is a reporter for TheStatehouseFile.com, a news website powered by Franklin College journalism students.

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