opinion   |   oped

EDITORIAL: Don't fleece the future



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Nelson Mandela once said, “Education is the most powerful weapon which you can use to change the world.” 

However, if education is our weapon we sure don’t mind shortchanging the manufacturer. Teachers’ salaries are once again being debated in the Indiana General Assembly, and the debate does not seem particularly hopeful.

Gov. Eric Holcomb called for a small tax increase to pay for increased educational spending in an effort to improve Indiana's lagging teacher salaries. Detractors say that it barely addresses the matter of teacher’s pay.

Teachers already are underpaid, and recently offered solutions have not done enough to address it.

Indiana is ranked 34th in terms of teacher’s salaries, according to a report from the New Jersey Real-Time News. However, the ranking shoots up to 18th highest once factoring for cost of living given that Indiana is a relatively inexpensive state. Regardless of where Indiana ranks on the metric of one’s choosing, one thing remains true: teachers are underpaid and chronically so.

If the governor’s plan of a 2 percent increase in spending were to go through, a commensurate increase in teachers’ salaries of 2 percent would barely match inflation.

One might ask, for all the talk of increasing teachers’ salaries, do we know that paying teachers more improves teaching quality? Research says it does.

Teachers’ current salaries often force them into holding more than one job. A Brookings study found that teachers were about 30 percent more likely than non-teachers to have a second job. This is the obvious part, if teachers are paid enough to not have to seek another job, they are freed up to focus more on the task of teaching. 

Furthermore, higher salaries would incentivize teachers stay in their positions longer, making them better at their jobs as they gain experience.

Stories of heroic teachers who poured their hearts into their work while barely making ends meet are omnipresent. Each story is a glaring policy failure. Teachers deserve pay equal to the herculean task we assign them of educating the future. 

So what are the prospects of boosting teacher pay in Indiana? Quite low, unfortunately.

The issue of raising pay may be bipartisan but the way to get there certainly is not. The most recent bill aimed at increasing teacher pay passed committee 9-3, down party lines. The bill seeks to incentivize school districts to cut administrative spending, hoping that it will spur a comparable increase in teachers’ salaries. However, with no mandate for spending the funds cut toward teacher pay, nearly every outside advocacy group has either offered criticism or tacit support.

Additionally, while trying to figure out a way to fund schools fairly, the state has done a special disservice to its poorest and most needy students. 

This has effectively led to decreased funding for schools in the poorest districts and slightly increased funding for schools in wealthier districts. This did not take into account the fact that wealthier districts did not need higher funding from the state government as they could marginally raise property taxes to fund schools, a strategy that districts use today despite the property tax caps introduced nearly a decade ago.

The fact of matter is that the education system needs major reform and minor tweaks seem unequal to this task. A recent survey revealed that 91 percent of school superintendents say that they face a teacher shortage. 

For the sake of both teachers and students, we can only hope our leaders take this seriously. Anything less would be a dereliction of duty.

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