Corona: Cut vouchers to pay teachers
17 Dec 2020 — Journal Gazette
Ashley Sloboda

The 37 ideas a state panel recommended for raising teacher pay did not include one approach that a Fort Wayne Community Schools board member would like lawmakers to consider.

"My suggestion, in addition to those 37 recommendations, is that the General Assembly looks at seriously cutting the amount of money they will budget for vouchers," board member Steve Corona said. "If they're serious about raising teacher pay in public schools, this is the fund that they need to take a look at."

Corona pitched his ideas during the board meeting Monday, hours after the Next Level Teacher Compensation Commission released a 183-page report with recommendations for short- and long-term approaches to increasing average teacher pay to at least $60,000 in Indiana.

The panel's 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.

Julie Hollingsworth, FWCS board president, said the district already is incorporating some recommendations.

"They found to be true what we have been saying for several years now," Hollingsworth said. "That is, that although the Legislature has increased K-12 spending, which they remind us of continuously and put in their campaign literature, it has not increased at a fast enough pace."

Hollingsworth liked the recommendation of increasing "complexity funding" as a percentage of the state's total tuition support : without reducing other tuition support components : so that districts with higher poverty levels can pay teachers more.

Complexity funding is money available to schools serving disadvantaged children.

"Of course, the Legislature has done nothing but decrease that for what, Kathy, the last six years now?" Hollingsworth asked, getting confirmation from Chief Financial Officer Kathy Friend in the audience.

Corona highlighted other state-level decisions that have funneled money from public schools, including the property tax caps the Indiana General Assembly implemented in 2009. For FWCS, the cumulative loss to the tax caps since 2009 is about $78 million.

"Think about what that would have done for teacher pay," Corona said.

The district's budget also is affected by the voucher program, Corona said. In the 2018-19 academic year, $20.2 million followed 4,642 students living in the FWCS district to other schools, he said.

FWCS is one of the districts most affected by the voucher program because Allen County has great parochial school options in Bishop Dwenger, Bishop Luers, Concordia Lutheran and Blackhawk Christian, Corona said.

That led him to elaborate on his recommendation for lawmakers.

"I will suggest : because we are so adversely affected in Allen County, in Fort Wayne Community Schools : there is a specific cap on such funds for students who elect to take a voucher in Allen County," Corona said.

"We know the job that our teachers have done : heroic, over this past school year : and they deserve a pay raise."

Hollingsworth said it boils down to math.

"The biggest issue is that there's not going to be significant change unless there's increased revenue," she said. "That's just a mathematical thing."

This story is provided free courtesy of The Fort Wayne Newspapers.
"Corona: Cut vouchers to pay teachers" Journal Gazette 17 Dec 2020: C1