INDIANAPOLIS (AP) -
Top Indiana Republicans are inclined to wait another year before further
boosting school funding despite a Statehouse rally by several thousand
teachers and state tax revenues growing faster than expected.
Members of the
Republican-dominated General Assembly return today to the Statehouse in
Indianapolis for their 2020 session, during which they will face continued
calls from teacher unions and Democrats for better teacher pay and less
reliance on standardized student test scores for evaluation of schools and
Eric Holcomb wants to wait for recommendations later this year from his
teacher pay commission rather than have lawmakers take action during their
session that’s set to last until early March.
expected to quickly approve proposals to delay penalties to schools and
teachers from lower 2019 student scores on the state’s new ILEARN
standardized test. Holcomb also wants them to enact a statewide ban on
drivers using handheld cellphones.
A look at some of
the top issues:
teachers surrounded the Statehouse for a November rally that prompted the
closing of more than half of the state’s school districts, calling for
increases to Indiana’s lagging teacher pay and more respect from Republican
leaders and Democratic legislators maintain the state has money to give more
to schools now - pointing to about $300 million in unexpected tax revenue
that the state collected last budget year and nearly $250 million, or 4%,
that’s come in beyond projections since July 1.
legislators to direct about $300 million toward paying cash rather than
borrowing money for several planned construction projects, such as a new
veterinary hospital at Purdue University and building plans at Ball State
University, the University of Southern Indiana and Ivy Tech State College in
Columbus. The governor’s request includes $50 million for replacing a nearly
century-old structure at the Indiana State Fairgrounds - a project panned by
Democrats as showing greater priority for a swine barn than teacher pay or
other neglected needs.
Holcomb sticks by
the Republican argument that the state budget’s 2.5% increase for K-12
schools for this school year and next represents “historic, unprecedented
progress.” He says more needs to be done to make Indiana teacher pay more
competitive with other Midwestern states but will wait on the report from
the teacher pay commission he appointed in February 2019.
“We are going to do
it methodically. It’s going to be formulaic,” Holcomb said.
The state’s largest
teachers union is asking for $75 million that it says could provide a 1%
across-the-board raise for teachers as a “down payment” so the pay gap
doesn’t grow larger.
“Let’s face it -
the governor isn’t going to get us into the top three in the region by
suppressing Illinois’ pay scale,” Indiana State Teachers Association
President Keith Gambill said. “They are going to have to lift the salaries
of Indiana teachers. And to think that we can wait a year and we’re going to
be closer to meeting that goal is short sighted.”
groups estimated last year that a 9% funding increase was needed to boost
average teacher pay of about $50,000 a year to the midpoint of Indiana’s
neighboring states, while GOP state schools Superintendent Jennifer
McCormick cited a study showing Indiana as the state with the lowest teacher
salary increases since 2002.
Holcomb and GOP
legislative leaders are backing a one-year delay in using the student
results from the spring 2019 ILEARN exam so they don’t hurt teacher
evaluations or the A-F ratings for schools. That comes after language arts
and math results released in September showed about 48% off students in
grades 3-8 met or exceeded proficiency standards in those subjects. Those
are both more than 10 percentage points lower than the passing rates in 2018
under the now-discarded ISTEP exam.
Teachers want to
suspend the use of those student test results on teacher evaluations and in
determining pay raises, saying the “high-stakes tests” don’t accurately
demonstrate teacher performance.
Speaker Brian Bosma, who has long supported the use of student scores for
evaluating teachers, said recently lawmakers should take a “hard look” at
ending that practice.
“Maybe that doesn’t
make as much sense as it seemed to 20 years ago,” Bosma said.
Holcomb and Bosma
both recently backed raising the state’s minimum age for smoking and vaping
from 18 to 21, but with Congress voting in December to make that the
national age it is unclear what, if any, steps the Legislature will take on
The governor and
top GOP lawmakers, however, are firm in their opposition toward legalizing
the use of marijuana. That’s even as recreational marijuana sales have
started recently in Illinois and Michigan and medical use is allowed in
Bills have been
filed to end possible prison sentences for possession of small marijuana
amounts and permit some medical marijuana use in Indiana, but similar
proposals haven’t received committee hearings or votes in previous years.
advocates want the state to boost its cigarette tax and start imposing a tax
on vaping liquids, but that is another matter GOP leaders say they won’t
take up until the 2021 session when a new two-year state budget is written.
The governor wants
legislators to prohibit drivers from using handheld cellphones. State law
prohibits texting while driving, but officials say that law has proven
office says 20 other states already have similar cellphone bans and that the
crash risk is 3-1/2 times greater when a driver is using a handheld device.