State Rep. Ed DeLaney, D-Indianapolis, has proposed a plan to improve teacher pay that sets the minimum teacher salary at $40,000 per year for public school teachers and freezes — rather than lowers — corporate tax rates to help pay for it.

The plan also would have to draw on the state’s $2 billion surplus, he said. 

He and state Rep. Tonya Pfaff, D-Terre Haute, conducted a news conference Tuesday at Indiana State University; both are members of the House education committee.

DeLaney pointed out that from 2002 to 2017, Indiana was “dead last” in teacher salary growth when compared to other states.

In 2016-17, Indiana teachers made an average salary of $50,554, according to the National Center for Education Statistics, compared to $61,602 in Illinois and $57,000 in Ohio. Starting salaries in Indiana, however, can be as low as $30,000, according to a story this week in Chalkbeat Indiana.

In the Vigo County School Corp., the starting salary for a beginning teacher is $35,000.

Under DeLaney’s proposal, districts that raise minimum teacher salaries to $40,000 would receive an extra $100 per student in state funds.

In addition to freezing, rather than lowering, corporate tax rates, he suggests providing additional state dollars for school counseling services, which would free up funds in local school budgets. Also, according to Chalkbeat, he wants to provide more money to districts that receive less property tax revenue.

The Vigo County School Corp. receives about $1,000 less than the state average in combined total state and local support per student, at $9,201, compared to the state average for traditional public schools of $10,154.

It received $1,943 in local support per student, and $7,258 in total state support, based on fiscal year 2018 figures.

Carmel Clay, by comparison received $4,224 in local support per student, and $6,070 in state support, for a total of $10,294, based on 2018 figures, DeLaney said.

Vigo has greater poverty, but less overall funding, he said.

While DeLaney knows the Legislature is unlikely to increase funding for public education, and teacher pay, in a non-budget year in 2020, he believes 2021 is too long to wait. 

The teacher shortage “is becoming a crisis,” Pfaff said. “We don’t have two years to address a crisis.”

She pointed out that earlier Tuesday, she spoke to a first-year teacher who makes $35,000 a year and also has a $400 per month student loan payment. 

“Education is a calling, and you shouldn’t have to do two jobs to do the one that you love,” she said.

The two also said the Legislature has “diverted” money away from traditional public schools, which educate 93 percent of students, to charter, virtual and voucher schools. 

“It’s quite staggering, the amount of money being taken away from public schools,” Pfaff said.

Public schools received a 2.06 percent increase in state funding for 2020; charters, 10.3 percent; virtual schools, 5.25 percent and voucher schools, 9.28 percent, DeLaney said. Traditional public schools educate about 1 million children.

When contacted for a response Tuesday, State Rep. Robert Behning, an Indianapolis Republican who chairs the House Education Committee, hadn’t had a chance to look into DeLaney’s proposal and wasn’t able to comment, according to his staff.

Gov. Eric Holcomb has appointed a Next Level Teacher Compensation Commission that is studying how to improve teacher compensation, but the commission is not expected to complete its report until August 2020 — in advance of the next legislative session that sets the state budget.

At the close of the 2019 General Assembly, Republican legislators described “historic” funding increases for K-12 schools in the new state budget. Funding for K-12 public schools was to increase $539 million over the biennium; when adding in additional money for vouchers, charters, teacher grants and school safety, that number jumped to $763 million, or about 2.5 percent each year.

Lawmakers also freed up $70 million each year in districts’ retirement payments, which they hoped would free up money for teacher salaries.

The goal in conducting Tuesday’s news conference, according to Pfaff and DeLaney, was to focus attention on the teacher shortage and the need for improved teacher pay. They also suggest change is needed within the ranks of the Legislature. 

“No one in the [Republican] super-majority attacks public schools; they ignore them,” DeLaney said.  “I want to make sure they stop ignoring them.”

He also believes that what’s needed is “pressure from below” that comes from not only teachers, but superintendents, school boards and parents.

Sue Loughlin can be reached at 812-231-4235 or at sue.loughlin@tribstar.com Follow Sue on Twitter @TribStarSue.

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