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Indiana’s top educator: ‘Teachers are happy with any new monies that we see’

INDIANAPOLIS (WISH) — State lawmakers hope some of the money they set aside for Indiana schools in the recently-ended legislative session makes its way to teachers.

But, the state’s top educator isn’t so sure that’s going to happen.

“I’m excited that it’s over. It’s a relief when it’s over,” Jennifer McCormick, Indiana’s state superintendent of public instruction, said Monday. 

Millions of dollars are now on the way to fund schools. McCormick said the K-12 funding approved by state lawmakers in the biennial budget is the highest it’s been in 10 years.

“We were happy that those new monies were, per se, ‘found,’ and it wasn’t a, per se, ‘surprise,'” McCormick said. “Anytime new monies are found, obviously they came out higher than the governor’s recommended budget. It came out higher than the House-proposed budget. That was a good thing.” 

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One of the big questions: What happens with teacher pay?

In addition to funding teacher appreciation grants, Republicans decided to pay off teacher pension obligations to free up money to also go to teachers.

“I think teachers are happy with any new monies that we see,” McCormick said. “I think all educators understand the importance of new monies. We are also cognizant of inflation. We’re cognizant when we are 50 out of 50 on the states who have seen a teacher increase in pay since 2002. We’re watching all of that.”

In addition to the increase in education funding, Republicans want school districts to spend differently, recommending school districts move up to 15% of educational money to operations with the goal of boosting teacher pay.

“Time will tell,” McCormick said. “I am not as convinced as some that that is the solution to the issue. I think, 1), it did tie our hands with flexibility. For some of our schools, that 15% is going to be very difficult to hit. So, then what? I think it’s going to create more problems than solutions at the local bargaining table. I think a lot of teachers realize that was smoke and mirrors.” 

Bottom line, will Indiana teachers see a raise this year?

“Depends on the district.” McCormick said. “I still think we’re going to have many of our districts that will not be able to see those raises people are wanting, or they will be very, very small.”

All of this happening as our state deals with  a teacher shortage

“We are,” McCormick said. “We’re still in that area where we have over 5,000 on emergency permits. Out of 75, 000 educators across the state, we are in need.” 

McCormick also said there’s $5 million in new money going to school safety and security. 

“We were happy with some of the school safety areas, as far as a little bit more money got put into that overall pot,” McCormick said. “Keep in mind there will be more schools eligible, so we’re getting more money, but probably more that will be applying. So, it’ll maybe even itself out.”

The new budget helps schools pay for things like resource officers and threat assessments. But, McCormick said she feels like something’s missing. 

“Something we were very disappointed in, we were talking about in the beginning,” McCormick said. “That social-emotional piece, the mental health piece and how important that is for school safety to be proactive. There was not an appetite for some of those upstairs (in the Statehouse) to have that be included in the very end.” 

The way McCormick sees it, that might cost schools.

“We’ve heard across the state from parents, educators, students, from health care providers, of how important that is for school safety.” McCormick said. “But, we just couldn’t get it done this year. So, schools, I know, are going to have to dip into their general fund, look at referendums, some other mechanisms because we cannot, not do without it.” 

So, what’s next? McCormick said she and her team will take a close look at the bills being signed into law and also see what schools need individually. 

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