State Rep. Sheila Klinker: We need to act on teacher pay before Indiana declines further

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INDIANAPOLIS - The following column was authored by State Rep. Sheila Klinker (D-Lafayette):

As an educator, I understand the hard work and long hours teachers spend in the classroom. Even though, as a retired teacher, I did not have to endure the same challenges my daughter, a 2nd grade teacher has. I have another role in this pandemic. As a state legislator and member of both the Education and Ways and Means budget Committees, I feel it is now my responsibility to advocate on behalf of our teachers.

The Star Press recently published the column called “Report makes it clear — we spend far too little on education, including teacher pay” by Michael Hicks, the director of Center for Business and Economic Research and a professor of economics at Ball State University. The headline says it all, but I want to highlight a few points so that my colleagues in the Statehouse will hear the outcry for higher teacher pay and better educational funding.

My fellow constituents, here is what Hoosier teachers have to do today: they have to work a second job to pay the bills, manage overcrowded classrooms with a lack of resources, and bear the mental toll of virtual classes. If those emotional testimonies do not convince you to help our teachers, then perhaps a calculated, more economical approach is better.

The small amount of funding toward education hurts our economy.

According to Hicks, Indiana spent $1.3 billion less per year on education than the state would have if it grew educational spending at the same rate as the overall economy between 2004 to 2018. During that time, Indiana dropped from 22nd to 38th nationally in schools spending per student. Indiana spends a full standard deviation below the national average in total spending.

In the decade that we did not properly fund education, Indiana’s worker productivity declined for the first time. Per capita personal income saw its largest relative decline in history. 

“The [Next Level Teacher Compensation Commission] figured that the actual cuts to K-12 spending work out to about $580 million per year,” Hicks wrote. “That is almost identical to the $600 million [the commission claimed] it would take to bring teacher pay back to 2010 levels. In other words, almost 97 percent of the reduction in educational funding came out of teachers’ salaries.”

Hicks shared that Indiana ranks 40th in adults with a bachelor’s degree, right between Tennessee and Puerto Rico, both of whom are improving. However, Indiana is declining.

Hicks put it bluntly: “Indiana’s policies towards education and training are failing. That failure is slowing our economy, and the poor decisions of the past decade will continue to bear bitter fruit for another decade.” Unless improvements are made today.

Raising teacher pay won’t solve all of our problems, but it will certainly help to take care of one. We have to improve our incentives, so we can attract our best and brightest students into the teaching profession.

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