LAFAYETTE — Tensions remain high for Indiana teachers as the days count down until the state budget is finalized.
The Senate released a budget proposal Thursday morning that would increase funding more than the House’s proposal but educators remain cautiously optimistic.
The Senate’s version sets aside $14.9 billion for K-12 funding with 2.7 percent in 2020 and 2.2 percent in 2021.
This supersedes the House’s 2.1 and 2.2 percent increases but still falls short of Indiana State Teacher Association’s demand for 3 percent.
Teachers say they’re holding out for those extra decimals.
Teachers want a salary raise, not merit bonus
At Wednesday’s teacher walk-in ISTA President Teresa Meredith told a crowd in West Lafayette that state legislators would never let businesses sink to last place in profitability, referring to Indiana’s dismal standing as 50th in the nation for salary increases.
“We have seen them time and time again move heaven and Earth and change whatever laws they needed to benefit business,” she said. “It’s time that they do that for schools too.”
Marydell Forbes, West Lafayette Education Association co-president, reiterated the same frustration after looking at the Senate’s proposal.
She suggested it was time for legislators to start “digging in their coat pockets and look under couch cushions” to scrap together some money for schools,too.
“We’re not asking for miracles,” she said. “It’s been a decade in the making to get to where we are so it’s not going to happen over night but we’re looking for significant change.”
Instead of allocating specific funds for teacher salaries, the Senate proposal is pushing the Teacher Appreciation Grant.
While teachers appreciate the “appreciation,” Forbes said, they rather have a living wage.
“It’s kind of like putting on a band-aid instead of cleaning out a gaping wound,” she said. “Sure, you’ll stop the bleeding for a little while.
The grant is a merit-based stipend that Gov. Eric Holcomb proposed cutting and redistributing the money to boost the state’s teacher school supply tax credit to $500.
Instead, the Senate proposed to retain the $30 million grant.
One third of each school’s TAG money would go to teachers with less than five years of experience, according to the Senate proposal.
Additionally, it was proposed that 50 percent of the stipend money can be added to a teacher’s base salary.
Even so, the one-time bonus won’t do much for teachers paycheck to paycheck the way a contracted salary raise would, Tippecanoe Education Association President Mary Eisert said.
“It’s kind of like hoping you win $500 in the lottery to help pay your bills,” she said.
Enrollment-based funding shrinks small schools
Although the funding proposed in both the House and the Senate would be an increase, superintendents, teachers and local representatives are all concerned about how those increases are calculated.
The majority of the general fund is based on predictive enrollment formulas. Educators worry that factors like graduating classes, incoming kindergartners and families who move over the summer are too volatile of variables to determine financial estimations.
For example, the most recent estimates predict Lafayette, West Lafayette and Tippecanoe school corporations will all see an increase in students and therefore funding.
Only TSC has reason to believe that’s true based on its continued growth, superintendent Dr. Scott Hanback said.
On the flip side, West Lafayette Superintendent Dr. Rocky Killion has already warned teachers that a reduction in staff could happen if enrollment dips.
The legislative estimations projected more than 40 new students to enroll at WLSC whereas Killion’s estimates are the opposite with 30 less.
Rep. Sheila Klinker said she’s worried the enrollment-based funding will gut small school corporations that don’t show growth. The fear is that less students leading to less dollars will continue a domino effect to less teachers.
Instead, Klinker suggests an across the board increase for teacher salaries.
“Just because you’re in a small school in Western Boone County doesn’t mean you’re not as good of a teacher as someone at West Lafayette or Carmel or anywhere else,” she said.
Amber Ma, a kindergarten teacher at Glen Acres and Lafayette Education Association representative, said she continues to see teachers walk out due to low compensation.
“It is really frustrating to see teachers, who could be great with these students, walk out the door because they could make more money elsewhere,” she said.
Over the course of her 18-year career, Ma said the responsibilities that lay on teachers’ shoulders continue to get heavier as class sizes get larger.
And so much of those classroom necessities, whether it be snacks or school supplies, are paid for out of pocket.
“It is disheartening to feel like the odds are stacked against you every year,” she said. “I don’t think legislators know what classrooms look like these days.”
Indiana ranks last in teacher funding: See how your school stacks up
Senate proposal limits, caps virtual school funding
Lafayette Democrat Rep. Chris Campbell said it concerns her that the money may not truly be following the student.
Especially, she said, if students are being counted at voucher or charter schools but then returning to public schools.
The Senate proposal took a harder look at virtual, voucher and charter schools compared to the House bill. The Senate did not include a House bill creating a new tier in the private school voucher program
The Senate also omitted an increase for charter school grants that the House had proposed.
Both the House and the Senate reduced funding for virtual schools. The Senate’s proposal limited virtual schools to 80 percent of what traditional schools receive. Additionally, it proposed to cap state spending at the current $80 million level.
Six of Indiana’s virtual schools let 2,000 students slide through without earning a single credit, according to data obtained by the nonprofit education news organization, Chalkbeat,
That calculates to almost $10 million in state funding wasted on incomplete or failing online transcripts, according to Chalkbeat’s analysis.
“We’re still diverting too much money away from traditional public schools,” Campbell said. “We need to make sure they’re secure to provide a good education.”
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