THE NEWS-SENTINEL EDITORIAL: Will teachers really be a top priority as Legislature begins 2019 session?

The overriding concern for the Indiana House and Senate in this year’s session will be drafting a two-year budget with less money to work with than lawmakers had hoped for.

We encourage our elected officials to work wisely to set proper priorities in distributing funds where they are most needed. After all, that’s what the rest of us have to do every day.

As legislators gathered Thursday afternoon to begin the 2019 session at the Statehouse in Indianapolis, which is scheduled to last until late April, the determination in drafting a new two-year budget will be to focus on education, by adequately funding our school districts and universities, investing in school safety and considering pay increases for our K-12 teachers.

But in doing so, the Republican-dominated Legislature also wants to have enough money for the troubled Department of Child Services, which has requested $286 million in additional funding.

Our lawmakers expect to have $321 million in new revenue to use in 2020, and $262.9 million in 2021 in their budget planning, according to news reports. But increases in Medicaid expenses (an additional $121.5 million in 2020 and $123.1 million in 2021) will take a huge bite out of that. And most of the remaining funds are expected to go to the DCS to fight the opioid crisis and its struggle with high employee turnover.

So that leaves the question of additional funding for K-12 education, which already comprises 52 percent of the state budget. Both House Speaker Brian Bosma and Gov. Eric Holcomb have said they want to increase teacher pay as a top priority. But they apparently don’t have a plan in place to make that happen.

That doesn’t enhance the likelihood for any significant increase in funding our most valuable resources in education — our teachers.

Even other increases in education funding are at risk for being merely adjustments for inflation at best.

It’s the kind of dilemma we all face as citizens every day: how to stretch the income we have to meet the needs most pressing. It requires tough decisions and sacrifices in other areas.

What those sacrifices may be for the state as a whole should be debated early on, so we can make sure our schools have not only the best facilities and programs possible, but the best teachers as well. Gov. Holcomb has acknowledged that he is worried about Indiana losing teachers because of lagging pay.

We need to make sure we prod our legislators to keep that issue as a top priority before they commit all the money elsewhere.