Panel: Teachers deserve $60,000
15 Dec 2020 — Journal Gazette
Niki Kelly

INDIANAPOLIS : The Next Level Teacher Compensation Commission on Monday released a 183-page report with 37 recommendations for short- and long-term approaches to increasing average teacher pay to at least $60,000 in Indiana.

The suggestions for school districts include limiting health care plans and passing operating referendums. State-level options include shifting money from a generous college tax credit and raising state taxes.

"There is a gap between competitive pay and Indiana's current teacher salaries, and it has contributed to many challenges facing our education system today," the report said.

"Fewer students are enrolling in or completing teacher preparation programs, and fewer Hoosiers are earning teaching licenses. While there are varying opinions among the public about whether there is a 'teacher shortage,' the data is clear: Indiana has significant challenges in attracting and retaining qualified teachers."

There are about 65,000 public school teachers in the state.

"The report provides a wide range of actions for all to review and consider moving forward. The options offer a base for continuing these important conversations about making compensation for our hard-working teachers more competitive," Gov. Eric Holcomb said.

He and key lawmakers had pointed to the 2021 session as a time to start improving teacher pay but now are tempering expectations due to the pandemic.

Indiana Superintendent of Public Instruction Jennifer McCormick said most schools are already doing many of the things recommended in the report to optimize spending.

"As we enter the 2021 Indiana General Assembly legislative session, Hoosier educators look forward to the additional state funding and state-level policy actions necessary in order for teacher compensation to truly move forward," she said.

The commission first determined that an average teacher salary of 60,000 in the 2018-19 school year constituted competitive pay. According to the National Education Association, Indiana had an average teacher salary of 51,119 that year, ranking Indiana 38th for average teacher salaries out of the 50 states and Washington, D.C., and 18% below the national average.

A 60,000 average salary for teachers would increase Indiana's rank within a group of 12 Midwest states from ninth to third, the report said. Getting there would require an additional annual investment in teachers of more than 600 million.

"Some of this can be derived from expense reallocations, but capturing potential efficiencies has limits and will need to be coupled with new revenue sources," the report said.

The commission found the COVID-19 pandemic has depleted state and local revenues. A multi-year commitment is required to make progress, the group said.

"While many proposals included in this report can be implemented in 2021, several ideas : particularly those involving significant new revenue : will not be feasible until the state's economic environment improves. These challenges are not insurmountable in the long term, nor are they avoidable."

The report found the state has recently been increasing K-12 spending but not at a fast enough pace. Controlling for the number of students served, 2019-20 per-pupil funding was more than 7% lower than 2010 levels when adjusting for inflation. This represents a shortfall of about $580 million from 2010 funding.

Dan Holub, executive director of the Indiana State Teachers Association, said the primary message of the report is that Indiana GOP legislators "have not kept up with their responsibilities to public schools in our state."

He said the state needs new sustainable revenue now.

"We simply cannot wait any longer," Holub said. "It is unfair if the legislature doesn't act, because that would be laying the weight of the problem on schools."

He said promises have been made and it is time to keep them.

One thing ISTA will oppose is limiting health care coverage for spouses on teachers' plans. Several recommendations shift money from benefits to salary, though Mike Smith, chairman of the compensation commission, said that wasn't intentional.

He also stressed that there must be action on both sides of the ledger : spending and revenue.

"It's a daunting task," Smith said.

Senate President Pro Tem Rodric Bray was noncommittal in a statement about the report.

"There's no doubt we are facing many challenges due to the COVID-19 pandemic, and our next state budget will not be immune from those challenges," he said. "My caucus members and I look forward to reviewing the commission's recommendations and identifying more ways for the state to work in partnership with local governments and school administrations to increase teacher pay."

This story is provided free courtesy of The Fort Wayne Newspapers.
"Panel: Teachers deserve $60,000" Journal Gazette 15 Dec 2020: C1