Dr. J.T. Coopman
We are nearly halfway through this year’s General Assembly session. Major discussion has centered around teacher salary, career and tech ed, school safety, and accountability metrics.
Since HEA 1009 was just enacted in January, we have no idea how it will work in local districts and how the money will be divvied up between the operations fund and education fund, but we saw a bill very early, HB 1003, that changed the direction of perceptions about the flexibility offered in 1009. The legislators describe the intent was to have more money going to teacher salaries. So basically, they were saying we are not going to add money to the base salaries, but we expect school districts to figure out how pay more under the newly enacted 1009. I have explained there is not a school board or superintendent that does not want to pay teachers more money, but they must have it available to do so. With circuit breakers and property tax caps, and with the state controlling the general fund with income and sales tax revenue, the options are limited. At least we are not Alaska which had their Governor announce an across board reduction in school revenue by 25%.
The Governor proposed in his state of the state speech a surprise move to lower the amount school districts pay into the teacher retirement fund from 7.5% to 5.5% as a means of paying teachers more money. This was an innovative and creative suggestion. However, this is an expenditure reduction not a revenue enhancement, one could argue. This amount from school district to school district varied greatly from millions of dollars to a few thousand dollars. So, taxes did not eat a big chunk of any salary offered, some districts are looking at other ways to use the money, such as in benefits offered to teachers. We thank the Governor for thinking of teachers and school districts with this approach.
Career and tech education still does not have a clearly defined path yet. Of course, this is causing great concern. However, we are seeing bills with tax credits offered as incentives to business leaders to pony up dollars to support work to learn initiatives in local areas. The concept is sound, but will generally work in heavily populated, business rich areas of the state, but not so much in rural Indiana.
Several ideas have surfaced in the area of school security and how to fund them. Some are matching grants, some are application for grants, and some are dollars per pupil funds. Most ideas deal with hardening schools with secure entrances, but some deal with first responder issues. Another unique approach was arming teachers and training them to secure the schools. The idea of how Indiana will secure schools will not be determined until late in the session.
On the accountability side, we had a bill announced that would have high schools rated on what students do six months after they graduated. Many of us thought our job was to see them graduate and not act as their guardian after they graduated. I guess we were wrong.
One other bill worthy of mention is a bill to have referendums only in general elections. We thought this bill to be dead only to have it come back and be passed out of the Senate elections committee. This is very detrimental for our Indiana schools and really is an attempt to thwart schools from passing referendums even though they put us in a position to become a referendum state.
More fun under the big top as the second half of the session begins. Remember, your voice counts and should be heard, so please continue to work with your local legislators on issues of concern to Indiana public schools.