Indiana House to vote on teacher pay plan next week

("Indiana State Capitol Building" by Drew Tarvin, CC BY 2.0)

Republicans’ main teacher pay plan could come to a vote in the House as early as Tuesday.

Republicans want to make school districts explain publicly if more than 15-percent of their budget is going somewhere other than the classroom. The plan cleared the House Ways and Means Committee on a party-line vote.

Republicans rejected a Democratic plan to offer extra state money to schools which agreed to set the minimum teacher salary at 40-thousand dollars a year. Some beginning teachers make as little as 30-thousand. Indianapolis Representative Ed DeLaney says the 40-thousand figure is close to, but not above, the state’s highest starting salary, and would be high enough to make teaching an attractive career option.

DeLaney says schools already above that threshold would basically be getting extra money to push salaries even higher, while others might not be able to reach 40-thousand even with the grant and might opt out. But even though schools wouldn’t have to participate, Ways and Means Co-Chairman Todd Huston (R-Fishers) says it still goes too far toward the state dictating salaries. He says nine out of 10 teachers got raises last year, and many lifted their salaries above 40-thousand through collective bargaining. He says that’s still the best way to set local salaries.

But Huston says he’ll work with DeLaney on a provision to publicize how each school district’s property values compare to total enrollment, so people can judge how much money a district has to work with. He says the goal of the 15-percent rule isn’t to bludgeon schools into paying teachers more, but to get more information about what they’re paying them now.

Huston says everyone agrees teachers should earn more, but it’s hard to pin down how Indiana compares to other states. He says the Indiana Department of Education, the National Education Association, and the education advocacy group Stand for Children have all released slightly different calculations of Indiana teachers’ average salary. And Huston says while Indiana’s average is right around the national average, the state ranks ninth-highest if you compare it to cost-of-living — it’s just that three of the top four are neighboring states.

And Huston and Delaney both note wide variations from district to district. The income level in a school district, the teacher contract, and the proportion of newer teachers in a school district can all throw off the average — the highest-paid teacher in Indiana makes three times what the lowest-paid one does, and the district with the highest average salary pays teachers nearly double what the lowest one does.