Indiana State Capitol

Indiana State Capitol in Indianapolis.

WHITE COUNTY — Superintendents at each of White County’s school corporations aren’t happy with the Indiana General Assembly’s consideration of three bills they feel will negatively impact public school education in Indiana.

In a letter signed by each of the school’s superintendents – Dan Sichting (Frontier), Nick Eccles (North White), Patrick Culp (Tri-County) and Deb Metzger (Twin Lakes) – urge parents to contact their elected officials and request they not vote in support of HB 1005, SB 412 and SB 413.

“As leaders of public school corporations of White County, we see these bills contrary to measures to the Indiana General Assembly’s ‘Roadmap for Improving Indiana Teacher Compensation,’” the letter states. “These bills would reduce state revenue collections thus reducing the amount of revenue to fund public education.”

Last summer, the Indiana General Assembly assigned a committee to study Indiana teacher compensation. The committee published a report titled: “A Roadmap for Improving Indiana Teacher Compensation.” The report recommended an average teacher salary of $60,000 as being competitive for Indiana teachers.

In 2019-2020, the average teacher salary in Indiana was $53,463.

According to 2019 data (the latest publicly available), each of White County schools fell short of the state standard. North White teachers averaged $46,300; Twin Lakes, $47,290; Frontier, $38,114; and Tri-County, $46,841.

“Indiana’s teacher pay is not as competitive as neighboring states,” the superintendents’ letter states. “Fewer potential educators are entering the profession due to the lack of competitive pay or wages. As a result, Indiana school corporations are experiencing difficult times in attracting new talent. This issue could result in teacher shortages and larger class sizes.”

“A Roadmap for Improving Indiana Teacher Compensation” concluded three factors were needed to address this issue. The report indicated the path to competitive teacher compensation involves “increasing sources of revenue for teacher pay.”

That’s where the state House and Senate bills come into play.

HB 1005 sets aside $33 million in 2022 and 2023 for Choice Scholarships, tax deductions provided to parents of students who would leave public school and enroll in a private or parochial school. It has passed the Indiana House of Representatives and is awaiting a vote in the state Senate.

In the past, only parents living in high poverty areas were eligible for Choice Scholarships. White County’s superintendents said the bill expands the funding to parents who make up to 300% of the federal free and reduced poverty lunch poverty levels.

“So, someone making an annual income of $174,000 with a family of four would be eligible for a Choice Scholarship,” the letter states.

HB 1005 also sets up an Educational Savings Account for parents who have children in accredited private or parochial schools. The Educational Savings Account allows parents to deposit money in the account for Special Education services, tuition, or other supplies. The parent is allowed to claim this deduction on their yearly Indiana tax return.

“As a result of this bill, revenue from Indiana taxes will be diverted to private and parochial schools in a grander manner than in the past,” the letter states.

SB 412 establishes the Indiana Education Scholarship Account. This becomes the vehicle for parents to deposit funds for Special Education services, tuition and supplies for their student to attend a private or parochial school. This bill didn’t make it out of committee for a vote on the floor of the Senate. But, the superintendents said, the bill’s language could be inserted later in a conference committee bill.

SB 413 allows foster children to receive a Choice Scholarship.

“These bills will not become law unless the bills pass both houses of the Indiana General Assembly,” the superintendents’ letter states. “At this point, HB 1005, SB 412 and SB 413 have not passed both houses of the Indiana General Assembly and will be introduced for consideration into the Senate in the next few weeks.”

The superintendents wrote that the expansion of the Choice Scholarship is an extension of policies and philosophies in Indiana that have resulted in teacher salaries not being as competitive as those in neighboring Midwestern states.

“These policies divert funding which could be used to fund more competitive teacher salaries to other programs or initiatives,” the letter states.

During his fifth State of the State address Jan. 19, Gov. Eric Holcomb discussed increased funding and promised $377 million to K-12 schools and 100 percent of school funding for the second half of the school year amid the COVID-19 health emergency. The governor also emphasized improving teacher pay and recruitment.

“When – not if – when we do this, we will be one of the best in the Midwest for teacher pay, and we’ll be better able to attract and retain teacher talent, including attracting more minority candidates,” Holcomb said.

In 2020, Holcomb approved state employee pay-for-performance hikes of up to 6%, but teachers were not included. At the time, he said he wanted to know more about the ways school money gets to teachers’ salaries before adding even more dollars to the mix.

Eccles told the Herald Journal on Saturday that there will be a joint school board meeting at 7 p.m. Monday, March 1, to oppose HB 1005, SB 412 and SB 413. School boards participating in the joint meeting will be Eastern Pulaski, Benton Central, Carroll, Delphi, North Newton, North White, Pioneer and Tri-County.

The superintendents ask people who feel the House and Senate bills should not be enacted to contact state Rep. Don Lehe (R-Brookston) at 1-800-382-9841, or state Sen. Brian Buchanan (R-District 7) at 800-382-9841 or via email at h25@iga.in.gov.

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