NEWS-SENTINEL EDITORIAL: State teacher compensation commission needs to come up with plan to increase pay scale

While the Indiana Legislature’s commitment to public education was notable this year, the lack of a pay increase for teachers was disappointing.

Indiana’s average pay is $50,218 a year, which is between $2,000-$10,000 less than teachers in neighboring states. Starting pay for teachers at some school districts in Indiana is less than $35,000. It is believed low pay is one reason there is a shortage of qualified teachers at many schools.

For those reasons, it is important that Gov. Eric Holcomb’s Next Level Teacher Compensation Commission comes up with a way to increase the pay scale for our teachers in time for the next budget cycle in 2021. That commission, which is looking at what teachers should be paid in Indiana, will hold three meetings across the state next month.

Holcomb and the Legislature delivered a budget that increases per-pupil funding, expands vouchers and charter schools, provides teacher grants and preserves 13th-period cost-of-living bonuses for retired teachers. But late in the legislative session lawmakers discovered they would have about $100 million less to work with because of a revised revenue forecast that decreased by $33 million and an anticipated increase of $65 million in Medicaid spending through 2021.

That scrapped chances for teacher pay increases in the new budget. But Holcomb had the foresight to form his teacher pay commission in February. Its task is to identify strategies for increasing teacher pay next time around. It’s encouraging to know they are working toward that end.

The three commission meetings will be Aug. 19 in Indianapolis, Aug. 24 in Evansville and Aug. 27 in Elkhart. Exact times and locations will be announced later. The purpose of the meetings is to seek ideas and solutions to the teacher pay gap. Comments may also be submitted online at www.in.gov/gov.

The commission plans to deliver recommendations to the governor and Legislature by next summer.

Volunteer members of the commission and its advisory council include school board members, administrators, business executives and one teacher.

Early this year The Indianapolis Star examined the collective bargaining agreements made between teachers and Indiana’s 287 school districts. It put together a data base of minimum, maximum and average salaries in each district for full-time teachers in the 2017-18 school year.

The figures show Fort Wayne Community Schools, Indiana’s largest school district, had an average pay of $53,522.95. In comparison, Indianapolis Public Schools averaged $51,338.18.

Southwest Allen County Schools’ average was $57,035, East Allen County Schools $55,255 and Northwest Allen County Schools $51,208.

The highest average pay in the state was Hamilton Southeastern Schools at $64,983, while the lowest was Medora Schools at $37,221.

The results show the wide discrepancies in pay throughout the state and the need for Indiana to take action to improve compensation for those we task to teach our children.

The chairman of the teacher pay commission, retired Anthem executive Michael Smith, says the commission has met around five times since it was formed. He told Indiana Public Radio that members have spent the past few months gathering information on the history of teacher pay in Indiana.

“What we’ve been trying to do is just get everybody level-set with information that might make us better able to review suggestions that are brought to us by others,” he said. Indiana teacher pay was comparable to surrounding states until 2009, he said, and the commission is trying to discern what has changed since then.

We trust the commission will support what we believe is a strong case for higher and more balanced teacher compensation and bring to the governor and our legislators a solid plan to make that happen in our next budget cycle.

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