Gov. Eric Holcomb dropped a surprise Tuesday in his State of the State address, and it was a good one. He called for tapping Indiana’s budget surplus to add $70 million to funding for K-12 schools each of the next two years.
That’s a little less than a 1 percent increase, but it’s something. And it’s on top of a 2-percent-per-year school funding hike in Holcomb’s budget proposal.
Gov. Eric Holcomb
It was a surprise because the Republicans who control both the House and Senate had signaled that Indiana’s $1.8 billion surplus was off the table in this budget-writing session. If the GOP governor says it’s not off the table, then it’s not.
The $70 million per year would help pay teacher pension costs that schools currently bear. That would free money for schools to use for other purposes. Holcomb said they should use it all to increase pay for teachers.
The funding will offset some of what school districts and charter schools pay into the Teacher Retirement Fund for teachers who joined the fund after 1996, a spokesperson for the Indiana Public Retirement System told me. Teachers who joined prior to 1996 are in a pay-as-you-go system that’s funded by the state.
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.