Op-Ed: Senate Democrats provide only clear path forward for teacher raises

Op-Ed: Senate Democrats provide only clear path forward for teacher raises

The Indiana Senate Democrats are so far the only legislators in the General Assembly with a proposal that would provide a direct increase to teacher salaries. Our state officials agree that teachers need raises, but they still have no plan to actually do this. The consensus within the Republican supermajority seems to be that no one knows how to accomplish teacher raises.

We do. We were the first to announce a proposal to raise teacher salaries and the only to provide a clear path forward to do so.

By creating an annual Educator Salary Increase Grant, we can ensure that new money being sent to schools is used for one sole purpose: raising the salaries of our educators. In the first year of the biennium, Senate Bill (SB) 399, authored by State Senator Eddie Melton (D-Gary), would provide a 2.5 percent increase to schools equating to about $104 million, and in the second year, an additional 2.5 percent would equate to about $211 million. This state hasn’t focused on the importance of funding education, resulting in what amounts to a $424 million cut over the last decade when accounting for inflation. SB 399 is a necessary step to ensure our teachers are compensated adequately.

How do we pay for this or make up for those lost funds? Well, there are a number of ways. We could repurpose the Teacher Appreciation Grant money to go directly to teachers’ base salaries instead of giving them as a bonus check at the end of the school year. That would give us 60 million of the needed dollars over the biennium to fund our proposal. By limiting private school vouchers to students who previously attended public schools we’d have an additional $157 million to give to our teachers. If we froze the corporate tax cuts at Fiscal Year 2020 rates our state would have an additional $105 million dollars to put back into our education system. Finally, by simply raising the cigarette tax by $1, Indiana could generate a whopping $500 million over the biennium that could fund numerous investments in our state.

It’s not that there isn’t money available, we just have to have the courage to do what’s right and create avenues to fund our important educators.

Indiana has a severe teacher shortage crisis on our hands. Our teachers are paid less than any of our neighboring Midwestern states. You don’t need to just take our word for it; a recent study by Stand for Children and Teach Plus corroborates our concerns. Enrollment in teacher preparation programs declined by 60 percent between 2009 and 2014. 92 percent of our school districts have reported that they have trouble filling open positions. This is a crisis for our kids, our communities and our workforce development abilities.

This isn’t just a list of pointless statistics. These are tremendous issues that cannot wait another year to be addressed. We need an impactful and immediate plan to address the crisis looming in our state. SB 399 needs to get a hearing to move forward because it’s the only bill that actually, fully addresses the teacher pay problem in Indiana.

We urge you to call or email Senate Appropriations Chair Ryan Mishler and request that Senate Bill 399 get a committee hearing. The deadline to hear Senate bills is February 21.

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