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Public schools in Indiana are poised to get more money over the next two years, but the proposal — a key piece of Gov. Eric Holcomb’s budget proposal released Thursday — still makes no guarantees of a raise for teachers.
Further, proposed cuts to an existing grant program are raising concerns that some educators could actually lose money.
Holcomb’s proposal calls for a 2 percent bump in the education budget each of the next two years, helping schools keep up with inflation. That works out to a $143 million gain in 2020 and an additional $146 million in 2021. Indiana writes its state budget for two years at a time.
At first glance, an increase in K-12 funding — the pot of state money that goes to public schools and pays for everything from teacher salaries to toilet paper — seems like it should mean an increase for teachers, too. But the path from a line item in the state budget to schools and then teachers’ wallets isn’t a straight one.
In Indiana, school funding follows students
Indiana funds public school districts based on the number of students they have enrolled. If a district loses students, it loses money. And while fewer students can mean fewer expenses, other costs are fixed.
“When the money follows the child, although we get a 2 percent increase, that doesn’t necessarily equate to a 2 percent increase for teachers on their salary,” said State Superintendent of Public Instruction Jennifer McCormick. She stressed that she’s glad for the boost to K-12 spending, but it doesn’t fix the state’s teacher pay problem. “Some of our districts may not receive any new monies when it’s all said and done with the way our formula works.”
No new money makes it hard for a district to raise salaries.
And that has been the reality in districts across the state for years. One resource they have had to try to get teachers something more on their paychecks, though, was the state’s Teacher Appreciation Grant. The program has been controversial for the way its funds were distributed in the past, but McCormick said it was still a protected pot of money going directly to teachers.
“Now they weren’t getting rich on that money, but it was a token to say, ‘Hey, we appreciate what you’re doing for the state of Indiana,” she said. “I’m worried that, if it gets absorbed, you’ll have some districts in such a fiscal situation that they won’t realize that new money either.
“Then your yearly salary would be going backwards.”
Bid to scrap $30M teacher grant program raises eyebrows
Holcomb’s budget would eliminate that grant program and repurpose the dollars. Of the $30 million annual appropriation, $10 million would go toward raising the tax credit teachers can receive for purchasing classroom supplies and the other $20 million would back into the general education budget. Officials in the administration said the hope is that schools will use the money to boost teachers’ salaries, but there is no requirement they do so.
Teacher pay has been a key issue for lawmakers already this legislative session, with several bills aimed at getting more money to teachers — either through changing how districts are spending their state dollars or new grants for some teachers who want to take on new roles in their schools.
Low pay enflames teacher shortage, officials say
There’s a nationwide teacher shortage, and Indiana is feeling its effects. Advocacy groups and lawmakers alike have raised concerns that Indiana’s low teacher pay relative to neighboring states is exacerbating the problem. A recent survey of Indiana’s school superintendents by Indiana State University found 91 percent reported a teacher shortage. Low pay is seen as a contributing factor.
With no easy solutions, teacher pay will continue to be a challenge as lawmakers work on their own budget proposals. While there seems to be broad consensus from Statehouse leadership on the 2 percent increase in K-12 spending, there has already been debate around the Teacher Appreciation Grant proposal.
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Sen. Ryan Mishler, R-Bremen, top budget architect for that chamber, took issue with the proposal to redistribute the grant money during a Thursday meeting of the State Budget Committee.
“In some schools, that’s the only pay increase teachers see,” Mishler said. “I still like the idea that that money goes straight to the teachers.”
Several Democrats on the committee also questioned the proposal. Micah Vincent, the director of the Office of Management and Budget, said the administration is happy to entertain other proposals to get more money to teachers across the state.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.
Call IndyStar education reporter Arika Herron at 317-444-6077. Follow her on Twitter: @ArikaHerron.
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