Lawmakers come up with proposal that may help increase teachers’ pay

Friday, the day after the opening of this year’s legislative session at the Statehouse in Indianapolis, we wrote that we need to make sure we prod our legislators to keep an increase in teachers’ pay as a top priority as they work on drafting a two-year budget with less money to work with than they had hoped for.

So we were happy to hear House GOP leaders’ announcement Monday that they will advance a proposal for Indiana school districts to spend at least 85 percent of state money on teachers and other classroom costs.

The move coincides with Republican Gov. Eric Holcomb and GOP lawmakers insisting that boosting teacher pay is a top priority for the new state budget, even though they had no plan in place for how to make that happen when increases in Medicaid and child protection expenses threaten to use up the majority of additional state funding.

Republican House Speaker Brian Bosma said the target of 85 percent could help boost teacher salaries while the state budget remains tight.

“If we can increase that percentage significantly, this is one way that we could use our current dollars and get more dollars in teachers’ hands,” Bosma said.

The Associated Press reported that, according to the National Education Association, Indiana ranked 31st in the nation in teacher pay in 2016, with average salaries of $50,715, lower than Ohio, Michigan, Illinois, Kentucky and Wisconsin.

Gov. Holcomb has said he is worried about Indiana losing teachers because of lagging pay. And Teresa Meredith, president of the Indiana State Teachers Association agrees.

“We want to keep them, and we can’t do that just by staying where we are,” she told the AP. “We’ve got to have some action.”

The Republican-dominated Legislature plans to increase school funding in their budget proposal that will be released in the coming weeks. We’re glad that they’re formulating a strategy to make that happen.

WHAT ABOUT HATE CRIMES LAW?

Indiana is one of five states that does not have a specific hate crimes law, even though the issue has been addressed by the General Assembly in years past. Gov. Holcomb supports such legislation, which we have opposed.

On Tuesday, a group called Indiana Forward, consisting of business and community group leaders, gathered at the Statehouse to launch a lobbying campaign for the law. The presidents of United Way of Central Indiana and the Indianapolis Chamber of Commerce also attended the event.

While the push for hate crimes legislation is gaining momentum, we have maintained that so-called “hate crimes,” which make up only .0002 percent of crimes in Indiana each year, are already being sufficiently prosecuted and sentenced, because judges in our state are able to enhance a sentence for crimes of bias.

Proponents of a hate crimes law have insisted Indiana must send a message that we are “a tolerant state that values diversity and inclusion.” But such laws may discriminate in favor of politically-favored victims by enhancing a sentence when a crime is based on bias against a victim because of everything from race and religion to sexual orientation and gender.

We continue to maintain that should not be the issue in prosecuting crimes.

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