The two-year budget approved Thursday by the Indiana legislature is unquestionably good news for Hoosier students and teachers. Thanks to a surprisingly positive revenue forecast, lawmakers had $2 billion more to spend than expected. They wisely directed the lion’s share to education.
The budget adds $1 billion for K-12 schools over the next two years. It increases “tuition support,” the state funding that pays for most school operations, by 4.6% in 2021-22 and by 4.3% in 2022-23. It includes $150 million for COVID-19 learning recovery grants and $600 million to bolster a teacher pension fund.
The legislature looked to Gov. Eric Holcomb’s Next Level Teacher Compensation Commission for guidance on raising teacher pay – after largely ignoring the panel’s December 2020 report throughout the session. The report called for raising the starting salary for teachers to at least $40,000 and boosting overall teacher pay until it matches other Midwestern states.
Indiana educators watched quietly last spring as teachers in West Virginia, Kentucky, Oklahoma and Arizona staged rallies, protests and even walkouts for higher pay. Look for that to change next month when the Indiana General Assembly convenes for its biennial budget-writing session.
The Indiana State Teachers Association released its 2019 legislative agenda Monday, and boosting teacher pay is at the top of its priority list.
“At the end of the day, it’s about compensation,” said ISTA President Teresa Meredith.
The teachers’ union bolstered its case with the release of a poll that found more than 80 percent of Hoosiers favor increased school funding if the bulk of the money goes to the classroom. Over 70 percent of poll respondents said schools are underfunded and teachers are underpaid.
Indiana schools haven’t caught up from funding cuts in the recession of the late 2000s, and teachers and students have borne the brunt of the penny-pinching. Average teacher salaries have declined 15 percent in the past 15 years after adjusting for inflation, according to a Vox analysis.
“Some teachers haven’t seen a meaningful pay increase in 10 years,” said Meredith, whose union represents teachers in most Indiana school districts.