The Indiana State Teachers Association has some overriding goals for this upcoming legislative session – addressing the issue of low teacher pay and staffing shortages in school districts.
According to Indiana’s Department of Education job board, there are currently around 1,500 open teaching positions.
Keith Gambill the ISTA’s president. He said the pay offered for these positions is not competitive enough.
“Too many potential educators never go into the classroom, in part because of low starting salaries and record wage gaps between teaching and professions that require similar education, gaps that get worse over the course of educator’s careers,” Gambill said.
He said there are people out there who would make great, qualified educators. However, the pay is what often deters them from teaching in Indiana schools.
“There is no shortage of people who are called to teach and inspire the next generation,” Gambill said. “There is, however, a decade's long effort to undermine public education by not addressing professional pay.”
In the 2021 legislative session, lawmakers increased K-12 funding by about $1 billion over the course of the state’s two-year budget. That included $600 million recommended by Gov. Eric Holcomb's teacher compensation commission to help boost teacher pay. The state expects school districts to pay teachers a minimum of $40,000 a year.
Despite this, many educators and school district employees feel the action seen thus far is not enough.
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Dee Wilusz has been a bus driver for schools for 24 years. She said shortages exist in other areas of school districts – including bus drivers.
“These positions are vital and difficult to fill for some really obvious reasons when you think about it,” Wilusz said. “[There is a] lack of affordable health care and benefits. We are not covered under collective bargaining. We don't get paid during Christmas break, spring break, Thanksgiving break and we don't get paid for the entire summer.”
She said many districts are taking unsafe and impractical measures to transport children.
“Many districts have had to adjust start times to accommodate transportation, or they have administrators and teachers driving the buses,” she said. “They are attempting to overcrowd buses, which potentially puts our students in danger and our drivers in legal peril.”
Tara Richardson has been a teacher for 21 years. She said this shortage also affects the availability of substitute teachers.
“So when teachers get sick, when teachers need to take their own children to the doctor or need to take themselves to the doctor, it's almost frowned upon to take a day off,” Richardson said. “We have this enormous sense of guilt because we pretty much know that a sub is not coming.”
Teacher Casey Honkomp echoes this sentiment. She said her school often pulls other staff members at the school to cover classes and lunches – duties that would not typically be included in their job description.
“We pull our aides, we pull our interventionists who were hired to help us make up that COVID learning gap,” Honkomp said. “We hired them to help remediate those kids and make a difference and they can't do their job because we don't have enough substitutes to cover sick teachers.”
Republicans at Indiana’s Statehouse, including House Speaker Todd Huston (R-Fishers), have discussed “re-inventing” high school by introducing more workforce development opportunities with other curriculum changes as a focus for the upcoming session.
In response to this, Gambill said he is “saddened” that lawmakers are “choosing to not recognize the realities of what's happening” in Indiana schools currently.
The group will release a full list of legislative priorities next month. But, Gambill said the plan will largely center around staffing schools with better paid teachers.
The legislative session begins in January.