If lawmakers were treated like teachers


By Mary Beth Schneider TheStatehouseFile.com INDIANAPOLIS—Indiana’s legislature sets the rules for how money for schools is divvied up. Lawmakers determine what each district gets, how much charter schools get, how much is handed out as vouchers to send kids to private schools.  They determine how schools and teachers are held accountable.  What they don’t do, […]

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Indiana’s legislature sets the rules for how money for schools is divvied up. Lawmakers determine what each district gets, how much charter schools get, how much is handed out as vouchers to send kids to private schools.

They determine how schools and teachers are held accountable.

What they don’t do, they insist, is determine how much teachers are paid. That, they say, is a local decision. A local decision, mind you, that is heavily influenced by the dollars allocated in the budget those lawmakers pass and which is limited also by the property tax caps which they enacted.

In a recent interview, Jennifer McCormick, the educator who will be Indiana’s last elected superintendent of public instruction, said that with the governor now poised to appoint a superintendent – and with Indiana also having an appointed State Board of Education – it will become more important to consider education when choosing a governor.

That goes for the legislature, too.

While many lawmakers do want the state to do more to recruit and retain the best teachers – including boosting their pay – McCormick said there are still those who think “teachers are just whining, they get paid enough, they work 180 plus days.”

Give me a break. Better yet, give those teachers a break.

According to the National Education Association, the average starting salary for a K-12 teacher in Indiana in 2017-18 — the most recent figures available — was $35,943, below the national average of $39,249.

That’s for a full-time job for a college-educated professional who likely is spending some of his or her money buying supplies for the classroom.

To compare, I looked up a lawmaker elected by caucus to fill a vacancy at the end of 2017. His first-year pay for 2018, essentially his starting salary? $58,926.

People in leadership positions get more. Rep. Bob Behning, the Indianapolis Republican who as chairman of the House Education Committee has an oversized role in shaping policy, made more than $63,623 in 2018. House Speaker Brian Bosma, R-Indianapolis, got $69,764 that year.

Being a lawmaker in Indiana is a part-time job that comes with full-time pay and benefits.

While in session – which runs from January into March in even-numbered years and from January into late April or May in odd-numbered years – they are in Indianapolis Monday through Thursday. They have some interim committee hearings in the fall – and a single-day organizational meeting in November. For that they get a base pay that in 2019 is $26,490, plus $181 for every day the lawmaker is at the Statehouse, plus health, dental, vision and life insurance on the same basis as state employees.

And they don’t have to buy pens and notebooks for their seatmates.

It isn’t just starting salaries for teachers that lag in Indiana. According to businessinsider.com, the average salary for public school teachers nationally in 2017-18 was $60,483. In Indiana, it’s $54,846.

A report by the Rockefeller Institute, the public policy research arm of the State University of New York, found that as of 2017 Indiana’s teachers had the smallest pay increase of any of the 50 states and the District of Columbia. Since 2002, the average pay had only risen by $6,900. Alaska had the highest increase, going up $27,688 over 15 years.

Lawmakers have designated some money as merit bonuses for teachers, which is nice. But legislators get a raise every time the state employees do – and, unlike the state employees, merit isn’t a factor. You can be the laziest legislator ever put on earth, you can play video games instead of listening to debate and you can sleep through committee hearings. But so long as you get elected you will keep seeing your pay go up.

Oh, and if you want to go on a trip to a legislative conference, we’ll pay for it!

So maybe as they consider such things as teacher pay and accountability, lawmakers should take a walk on the wild side. How about if we link their pay to merit? We could tie it to the student test scores in their districts, and to the average incomes of their constituents. We could require them to take continuing education classes at their own expense and to bring in supplies to share with the caucus.

At a minimum, how about if they shadow a public school teacher for a few days?

It would be an education.

Mary Beth Schneider is an editor with TheStatehouseFile.com, a news website powered by Franklin College journalists.

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