Report: Raising teacher pay would cost $600M

Report For America/The Associated Press

INDIANAPOLIS — A panel tasked with finding ways to make Indiana teacher salaries more competitive released its long-awaited report on Monday, recommending a mix of cost savings and spending shifts to raise average teacher pay from $51,000 to at least $60,000.

The commission, which Republican Gov. Eric Holcomb convened in February 2019 to examine long-term solutions for increasing the state’s lagging wages for educators, said the raise would increase Indiana’s average teacher salary ranking from ninth-highest to third-highest in the Midwest and third-highest among Indiana’s neighbors.

With more than 65,000 full-time public school teachers in Indiana, achieving that competitive compensation rate will require an additional annual investment of more than $600 million, according to the Next Level Teacher Compensation Commission's report.

Some of the money can be derived from expense reallocations, but hitting the funding goal will also require other “new revenue sources,” the commission said.

As a start, the report includes 37 recommendations for local school corporations and state government that the commission said could provide more than $300 million in additional compensation for teachers each year.

Among the suggestions is for school districts to join the state’s pharmacy benefit plan and to limit their own health care plans, which could mean precluding educators' spouses and Medicare-eligible retirees.

It also suggests that districts make budget cuts or ask local voters to increase their budgets. And it suggests that state government should pay down pension debt, scale back the state's 529 plan college tax credit and raise taxes.

The report's recommendations are non-binding and it would be up to lawmakers and school districts to decide whether to follow any of them.

As legislators ready to craft the next two-year state budget, teachers around Indiana continue to face uncertainties.

The upcoming budget writing session was slated to be one focused on finding ways to raise educators' starting pay to $40,000 and average pay up to $60,000. Republican Senate President Pro Tem Rodric Bray said last month, however, the state would not reverse course on its position that teacher pay is an issue left up to local school boards.

Bray said in a statement that caucus members will review the commission’s recommendations, but he emphasized that “there's no doubt we are facing many challenges due to the COVID-19 pandemic, and our next state budget will not be immune from those challenges.”

House Education Committee chairman Rep. Bob Behning said in a news release that he “will thoughtfully consider their recommendations as we work through proposals to strengthen our support for Hoosier teachers,” but he didn't weigh in on any of the suggestions specifically.

The state's largest teacher's union, meanwhile, doubled down on it's call for the General Assembly — not just school corporations — to take action come January.

Dan Holub, executive director of the Indiana State Teachers Association, said if state lawmakers don't act on the recommendations quickly, schools will be left to solve teacher pay on their own.

“We’re simply not going to solve the problem that way,” Holub said. “It is clear from this report that the Legislature has to be the biggest player in that effort. If the Legislature doesn’t step up, none of these efficiencies are going to go far enough."

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