Crunch time for school funding, teacher pay

This chart from Forbes Statistica has been all over social media in Indiana in recent weeks, as well it should be. I wonder if Indiana legislators have seen it – and if they have, if they’re paying attention.

It shows that Indiana ranks dead last when it comes to increases in teacher salaries over the past 15 years. Pay for Hoosier teachers has increased by less than $7,000, not adjusted for inflation. That’s less than half the increase seen in neighboring states Illinois, Michigan, Ohio and Kentucky.

The legislature is hitting the home stretch on its 2019 session. By far the most important business left to resolve is approving a two-year state budget, including funding for schools. So far, lawmakers have proposed K-12 funding that barely keeps up with inflation. That needs to change.

Twenty years ago, Indiana teachers were paid well, especially considering the state’s low cost of living. But Republican-controlled state government has prioritized keeping taxes low and unions weak. The growth of charter schools and vouchers meant a smaller pot of money was divided more ways.

With the Great Recession, Gov. Mitch Daniels slashed K-12 funding by $300 million and vowed that getting by with less would be “the new normal.” It has been. Recent reports reinforce the Forbes data:

As House and Senate Republican leaders negotiate the final details on the budget, they are being lobbied to divert money away from public schools. Both the House and Senate versions currently include an expansion of the school voucher plan. And charter schools are asking for more money.

Teachers and their supporters, meanwhile, have had rallies, worn “red for ed” and conducted school “walk-ins” (as opposed to walk-outs) to call for better funding. Superintendent of Public Education Jennifer McCormick told advocates last week that they’re fighting for the future of public education.

“This isn’t about here and now,” she said, according to a Statehouse File report.  “This is about five years down the road. Are we still going to be the state that’s number 50 on teacher pay increases?”

Gov. Eric Holcomb and the House and Senate have so far supported increasing K-12 funding by a little over 2% per year. McCormick says the annual increase should be 3%. It needs to be at least that.

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