Legislators show little urgency on teacher pay


(Fort Wayne) News-Sentinel

It doesn’t appear the 15,000 Indiana teachers who spent Nov. 19 demonstrating in Indianapolis on Red for Ed Day can expect much for their efforts.

Nearly 300 school districts closed across the state that day as teachers attended the rally to call for a school funding boost beyond the 2.5 percent increase included in the state budget in each of the next two years. Republican Gov. Eric Holcomb and GOP legislative leaders have praised the plan for making strides toward improving teacher pay.

But education advocacy groups have estimated it would take a 9 percent funding increase to boost average teacher pay enough to match the midpoint of teachers pay in Indiana’s neighboring states.

And while the governor said he wants Indiana teachers to have salaries in the top three in the Midwest, he added that discussion on how to “adequately and fairly compensate our teachers” wouldn’t begin until after the 2020 legislative session, and that would mean nothing could be acted upon until the 2021 General Assembly.

The governor is waiting to hear from his teacher pay commission, which is currently working on recommendations for raising teacher pay. That report is not expected until the spring, after the Legislature’s 2020 short session has adjourned for the year.

The needs of teachers have been put off far too long. We hoped the outpouring of teachers from around the state would remind the governor and our legislators that children, educators and public schools need to be among their top priorities when the 2020 session convenes in January.

But the comments from the Republican majority in the Statehouse and the governor don’t seem responsive to the urgency of the matter.

Indiana State Teachers Association President Keith Gambill told the The Associated Press the new state budget adopted in April gives 60 of Indiana’s 291 school districts less money than before – 96 seeing a boost of less than 2 percent from last year.

Teachers unions and Democrats want the Legislature to use an unexpected $400 million surplus in the state’s cash reserves for teacher pay rather than adopt Holcomb’s proposal for using much of that money to avoid borrowing to fund several planned construction projects.

But Senate President Pro Tem Rodric Bray, R-Martinsville, said it is irresponsible to use one-time money for an ongoing obligation that would commit the state to a higher level of school funding for future years. Furthermore, he said doing so would have the state directing money to the districts to be used only for teacher pay rather than letting them decide how to spend it.

“We cannot count on revenues always exceeding what the professionals prognosticate,” Republican House Speaker Brian Bosma of Indianapolis said Wednesday.

Also, legislators have determined they cannot or will not open the budget in the coming session that begins January because it is not a budget year.

House Education Committee Chairman Bob Behning, R-Indianapolis, told the AP that the legislative session that concludes by mid-March isn’t when lawmakers should be making big decisions on school funding.

“We’re not in a period of crisis in terms of finances, and it would, I think, just be almost too difficult for us to get done in a such a short period of time,” Behning said.

Frankly, it seems to us our government officials are coming up with way too many reasons why they can’t do anything about the teacher pay problem sooner rather than later. If they really support the urgency of the teachers’ needs, they would be making special efforts to solve it way before 2021.

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