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Teachers’ union says pay, benefit increases only way to end teacher shortage

INDIANAPOLIS (WISH) — The head of Indiana’s largest teachers’ union on Tuesday said lawmakers should use the upcoming budget session to make long-overdue investments.

Lawmakers will begin crafting the state budget when they return to the Statehouse on Jan. 9. Indiana State Teachers Association President Keith Gambill said the union will push for more pay and benefits, including 12 weeks of paid family leave. In addition, Gambill said the ISTA will lobby lawmakers to expand the number of factors that affect the Complexity Index, a formula that calculates how much state funding schools receive based on their needs. The current formula relies primarily on how many students receive certain types of aid such as free or reduced-price meals. Gambill said he wants lawmakers to add other factors such as the neighborhood’s average income and the number of English language learners enrolled at the school. He said those issues are at the heart of Indiana’s teacher shortage. The Indiana Department of Education’s website currently lists some 2,100 open teacher and student support staff positions.

“For nearly a decade, ISTA has warned leaders about the state’s educator shortage and now that shortage has become unsustainable,” he said.

Teachers said pay, benefits and the inability to bargain over working conditions are perennial frustrations. Justin Brown, a second-grade teacher and the president of the Lawrence Education Association, said many of his colleagues work second and even third jobs to make ends meet. He said a lack of paid family leave means any family medical issue could put them underwater financially.

“It does make it difficult to devote 100 percent of your time to your profession,” he said.

Brown said Indiana teachers lost the ability to collectively bargain over issues such as class sizes, hours and training about ten years ago. He said he would like to see those rights restored.

Beyond the issue of pay and benefits, the ISTA’s wish list includes cultural sensitivity training as part of an effort to make the professional environment more inclusive for teachers of color. Association leaders also want a $200 million boost to special education and English language learner programs and a comprehensive, state-funded pre-K program.

Republican leaders have said they plan record levels of education funding as well as an overhaul of the school curriculum to better reflect employers’ needs. They have yet to release any details, in part because the state budget agency will not release its revenue forecast until Thursday. House Education Committee Chair Rep. Bob Behning, R-Indianapolis, pointed to state data which showed all 305 school corporations in Indiana raised base salaries by an average of $3,572 during the 2021-2022 school year.