Indiana has fallen far behind neighboring states when it comes to funding K-12 education, according to a study released this week by the Indiana State Teachers Association.
It’s also fallen behind where it used to rank on education spending and teacher salaries. A few years ago, Indiana did a relatively good job of funding schools, but it has slipped markedly in state rankings.
And it will take a lot of money to catch up, the study finds. The state would have to increase K-12 spending by nearly $1.5 billion a year to catch up with surrounding states. It would have to boost spending by $3.3 billion a year to get back the ranking it enjoyed five years previously.
Are Indiana teachers underpaid compared to their peers in others states? It’s a reasonable question to ask as state officials debate ways to find more money for teacher salaries.
A report from the Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis suggests they are underpaid. After adjusting for cost of living, Indiana teacher salaries rank 32nd among the 50 states and the District of Columbia, it says.
The average “real” salary for a Hoosier teacher in 2017 was $56,347 after adjusting for the state’s low cost of living. Adjusted average salaries ranged from $75,000 in Alaska to $46,230 in Oklahoma.
Significantly, Indiana’s adjusted average salary was well below that for teachers in surrounding states. Gov. Eric Holcomb has suggested Indiana needs to raise educator pay because it’s at risk of losing teachers to nearby states with higher salaries.
Indiana legislators want to give educators a raise, but they don’t want to pay for it. Their plan: Shame school districts into cutting spending elsewhere so they can target dollars to teachers.
Their tool for doing this is House Bill 1003, unveiled this week by House Republicans and presented Wednesday to the House Education Committee. It would “strongly encourage” districts to spend at least 85 percent of their state funds on instruction; it would subject them to public scrutiny if they don’t.
The assumption behind the bill is that schools have plenty of money, but they waste it on bloated administrative expenses and frills. But the data don’t support that claim.
House Speaker Brian Bosma said in a news release that many school districts are spending as much as 20 percent of their state revenue on “overhead and operations.” That includes central administration as well as building maintenance, insurance, technology and other costs that districts can’t always control.
Average teacher salaries in Indiana have declined by over 15 percent in the past 15 years after adjusting for inflation. That’s according to an interactive analysis produced last week by Alvin Change of Vox, drawing on data from the National Education Association.
Indiana’s pay cuts, Chang writes, are “worse than the nation as a whole, where teachers have had their pay cut by an average of 3 percent when we adjust for inflation. And since 2010, teachers in Indiana had their pay cut by 9.7 percent.”
They’re also worse than in West Virginia, where low pay and a lack of raises touched off a two-week teacher strike that pushed state officials to approve a 5-percent raise for educators. Clearly, lagging teacher pay is an issue across the country. The West Virginia strike could be a harbinger of things to come. Kentucky or Oklahoma could be next.
Chang quotes the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities to explain what has happened:
The Indiana Department of Education has awarded a second round of school improvement grants, and this time none of the more than $13 million is going to charter schools. Of course, two of the three charter schools that applied for the grants were funded in the first round. (Five of the 13 non-charters that applied have now been funded).
The DOE last week awarded $5.7 million to George Washington High School, $5.5 million to John Marshall High School and $2.5 million to Bendix School. Washington and Marshall are part of Indianapolis Public Schools; Bendix is an alternative school in the South Bend Community School Corp.
The grants, funded by the U.S. Department of Education, are designed to make dramatic improvement in the state’s lowest-performing schools. Washington and Marshall will implement a “turnaround” model of improvement, which includes replacing the principal and half the staff.
Real winners and losers
We wrote three weeks ago about the risk that “winners and losers” could result from Indiana’s growing reliance on local property-tax referenda to fund public schools. In Illinois, which relies heavily on local taxes to fund schools, according to federal data, there certainly are some winners. Continue reading