Jennifer McCormick

Jennifer McCormick, Indiana Superintendent of Public Instruction, speaks with members of the Parent Council Network of Washington Township Wednesday night. (Erica Irish, TheStatehouseFile.com)

Although House Republicans have committed more than 50 percent of their two-year budget proposal to K-12 education, the state’s top education leader said its initiatives are off-base and not in the best interests of schools.

Superintendent of Public Instruction Jennifer McCormick made her remarks before the Parent Council Network of Washington Township, the night before the Indiana House was scheduled to weigh in on the GOP’s $34 billion budget bill.

The budget bill advanced in the House Thursday after almost every attempt by Democrats to amend the bill, House Bill 1001, was rejected by Republicans, who hold a supermajority in the chamber.

House Democrats proposed a series of amendments to the developing budget that covered everything from teacher pay to school security and a fully-funded pre-Kindergarten program.

In particular, the Democratic caucus asked the chamber to instead use the state general fund to guarantee a 5 percent salary increase for all public school teachers. But this, alongside their other spending proposals, failed.

In the parents’ meeting, McCormick outlined several shortcomings in the budget proposal and accompanying bills that would affect how Indiana’s schools operate.

For example, McCormick cited a provision in the House budget that adopts Gov. Eric Holcomb’s proposal to use a one-time payment of $150 million from surplus funds to pay off school districts’ teacher pension liabilities. The hope is that, by removing these liabilities, districts will save more money and expand the number of dollars available to teachers.

McCormick said she wants to see a more aggressive and uniform approach to address teacher pay, noting that the money saved would vary from district to district. But she said she won’t oppose the state’s first attempt.

“That would be pretty irresponsible on my part,” McCormick said. “We have said thank you for that. That’s one good first step, but it can’t be the only solution.”

McCormick also discussed a provision in a separate bill — House Bill 1003 — that would require schools to transfer no more than 15 percent of revenue contained in its education fund, which covers classroom instruction, to the district’s operations fund.

She said legislators refuse to address the discrepancies among school districts and are instead offering a blanket solution to the widespread problem of teacher pay.

“It just matters where you are,” McCormick said. “For the people who have the flexibility and can afford it, great. I’m just worried about the majority of people who don’t.”

But other proposals reviewed by the General Assembly also didn’t offer much of an improvement, largely because of a widespread lack of interest in data compiled by the department, she said.

For example, a proposal by Rep. Ed DeLaney, D-Indianapolis, to kickstart an incentive program for teacher pay raises didn’t take into account all districts’ needs, McCormick said.

The proposal, introduced in an amendment to HB 1003 at a hearing in the House Education Committee, would have provided an additional $100 per enrolled student in school tuition support if a district commits to pay teachers a minimum salary of $40,000.

While McCormick called DeLaney “good partner of public education,” she said existing discrepancies across school districts — in which some teachers make as low as $30,000 a year — complicate a proposal to increase base salaries up front. 

As the budget progresses, McCormick warned educators not to be overly optimistic and to instead look at the numbers behind the problems.

“They’re hearing rhetoric from the Statehouse saying this is what it’s going to be,” McCormick said. “But when you go into practice and implementation at that local level, I’m very concerned there won’t be that realization.”

The budget bill also secures an extra $286 million each year for the Department of Child Services, bringing its annual budget to more than $900 million, provides extra money to local jails, and expands funding for Medicaid.

HB 1001 goes to the full House today, Monday, Feb. 24, for a vote before advancing to the Senate.

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

 

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