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.
Four in five public-school parents would support local teachers if they went on strike for higher pay, according to results of this year’s PDK Poll of the Public’s Attitudes toward the Public Schools.
Seventy-three percent of the overall public would back a strike by local teachers, the poll found. Even among Republicans, support for a teachers’ strike was 60 percent.
The poll, released this week by Phi Delta Kappa, has tracked public opinion on schools and teachers since 1969. This year’s poll surveyed a random sample of over 1,000 adults in May 2018.
The support for teacher strikes is remarkable at a time when union membership is shriveling, strikes are rare and government officials from state legislators to the Supreme Court have declared war on organized labor. But walkouts last spring by teachers in West Virginia, Oklahoma and Kentucky received a lot of attention, and the poll suggest the public was sympathetic.
Somebody really wants the Indiana legislature to pass a law that will let school superintendents give raises to favored teachers outside the bounds of union-negotiated contracts. Somebody with clout. Otherwise the supplemental-pay measure would have died last week when the state Senate, responding to overwhelming opposition from teachers and their supporters, refused to pass it.
But it didn’t. House leaders kept the idea alive Monday when they breathed new life into Senate Bill 10, which lawmakers had previously said wasn’t going to become law.
The controversial Republican-sponsored legislation lives again.
Both chambers had approved versions of the same bill – House Bill 1004 and Senate Bill 10 – which would, among other things, let superintendents award higher salaries to certain teachers. The votes were close: 57-42 in the House and 26-24 in the Senate (where Republicans have a 39-11 majority).
The extra-pay language in the Senate bill is actually worse, in the eyes of teachers’ unions, which strongly oppose both. It would let superintendents award higher pay “to attract or retain a teacher as needed” while the House bill would allow extra pay only to hire for a position “that is difficult to fill.”
Also, the House bill would require the superintendent to present justification for additional pay to the school board in a public meeting. The Senate bill would let that happen behind closed doors.
Indiana used to have a reputation for paying its public school teachers reasonably well. Not today. Hoosier teachers have seen some of the biggest pay losses in the country over the past 10 years.
That’s according to the 2014-15 “Rankings and Estimates” report published this month by the National Education Association. The report tracks data for the U.S. schools and the education workforce.
One figure really jumps out. Indiana teachers are making 13 percent less, adjusted for inflation, than they did a decade ago. That’s the second-worst record in the nation, ahead of only North Carolina, where real wages have fallen by 17 percent.
Teresa Meredith (courtesy ISTA)
Teresa Meredith, president of the Indiana State Teachers Association, said stagnant pay adds to challenges that teachers face from state-mandated evaluation systems, limits on collective bargaining and increased scrutiny for student test scores.
“It kind of feels like we’ve taken huge steps backward in time in a lot of things,” she said. “And compensation is just one of them.”
Meredith traces some of the salary deflation to the property tax caps that Indiana adopted in 2008. Responsibility for school funding shifted from local to state taxes, and state revenues took a big hit with the recession. In 2010 Gov. Mitch Daniels cut K-12 education funding by $300 million.