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NEWS-SENTINEL EDITORIAL: Teacher pay pushed off until 2021

Gov. Eric Holcomb teased prior to his State of the State address last week that he would announce something special about teacher pay in Indiana, a huge issue brought to a head at November’s Red for Ed Day, when thousands of Hoosier teachers showed up at the Statehouse to make their case for higher pay.

Some have doubted the sincerity of both the governor and the state’s lawmakers in taking the issue as seriously as Indiana’s educators because of their refusal to deal with the problem until the next budget year in 2021. What Holcomb proposed in his speech last week was to tap into the state’s $2.3 billion in cash reserves in the 2021 legislative session to make a $250 million early payment into a state teacher pension fund. But he still wanted no action taken this year.

The Republican-dominated House had already rejected Democratic proposals toward boosting teacher pay during the first week of the legislative session. There was even a bill filed by Evansville Rep. Ryan Hatfield (D-Evansville) that would have set a minimum salary of $50,000 for any “full-time teacher employed by a school corporation.” That would be a nearly $14,000 increase over the current average starting salary and just about matches the current average pay for teachers in Indiana. A bit unrealistic, we thought. That bill was passed on to the House Ways and Means Committee.

Then Thursday a Democratic proposal to immediately boost Indiana teacher pay by $100 million a year by stretching out payments to a teacher pension fund was rejected by a Republican-controlled committee. The extra money would have boosted funding for the state’s Teacher Appreciation Grant bonus program by 267 percent this year.

Holcomb and leaders of the GOP-dominated Legislature have repeatedly defended the 2.5 percent per-year increase in school funding included in the two-year state budget they approved last spring as a significant step toward the goal of raising Indiana to among the top three Midwest states in teacher compensation.

But the delay in action till next year has frustrated Democrats. In an Associated Press story last week, Senate Democratic leader Tim Lanane of Anderson said Republicans are simply using “smoke and mirrors” as reasons for not acting on teacher pay now.

“Let’s get the money on the table,” he said. “We can do it. This is all just delay for whatever reason, which I, frankly, don’t understand. The money is there to do something this year for teachers.”

Pass stopped bus, lose vehicle

We’ve written much about the need for school bus safety and last year’s legislation to stiffen penalties for those who break the law by passing a school bus with its lights flashing and stop arm extended.

Sen. Ronnie Alting (R-Lafayette) proposed Senate Bill 219 that would allow for seizure of the offending vehicle, similar to what happens during a drug seizure. Following the first reading in the first week of the session, the bill was referred to the judiciary committee.

Bill aims to eliminate Senate primaries

Senate Bill 75, filed by Sen. James Buck (R-Kokomo), also presented for a first reading during the session’s first week, would strip Indiana residents of the right to vote in U.S. Senate primaries. A story by AP says party insiders would select Republican and Democratic candidates for the U.S. Senate at state conventions. Voters would have to wait till the general election to vote on candidates for the Senate.

If passed, the bill would take effect on July 1. Things wouldn’t actually change in Indiana until 2022, since neither of Indiana’s senators are up for re-election this year.

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