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Teacher pay issue challenges lawmakers and governor

INDIANAPOLIS, Ind. – Among the items included in the state budget proposal unveiled on Thursday morning, there is also a plan to increase teacher pay. However, that is already getting some pushback from lawmakers on both sides of the aisle.

Last fall, Governor Eric Holcomb (R) announced plans to eliminate the teacher appreciation grant, or TAG. Under the new budget proposal, the $30 million assigned to that grant will be repurposed, with $10 million going towards tax credits teachers can use and the other $20 million into the basic education budget—which the governor hopes school districts pass on to teachers, although there’s no mandate they do so. And even if they did, that $20 million, distributed evenly among the state’s teachers, would only be about $300 per educator.

“I am concerned about teacher salary,” said Indiana Superintendent of Education Dr. Jennifer McCormick, “because when you take TAG, which is designated toward specific teacher salaries, and you take that away, we are hoping that districts will pass that money on to teachers.”

Lawmakers and education advocates have long talked about increasing teacher pay, but a solution has remained elusive. This budget does include an added two percent spending increase on K-12 education for the next two years.

“Any time we have an increase of any dollars, we are very happy about that so this is much better news than we were expecting,” said McCormick.

But some Democrats say that’s not enough.

“Teachers aren’t getting any “extra money” by this additional two percent,” said State Senator Karen Tallian (D-Portage), “that barely, if at all, keeps up with inflation.”

The Governor’s budget proposal would allow teachers to take up to $500 in tax credit for items spent out of pocket; but even some GOP lawmakers say the old grant system was a better way to help educators.

“I realize the Governor keeps the money in education…but I would still like to see it go straight to the teacher,” said State Senator Ryan Mishler (R-Bremen).

Already facing pushback, even from his own party on the issue, Governor Holcomb expects to negotiate.

“Well I respect their perspectives and their opinions, and like I said we’re a week into this long conversation,” said Holcomb, “that’s the beauty of this building, a lot of different opinions, a lot of different perspectives.”

This is just the initial budget proposal and it will likely look much different by the time the legislative session ends later this spring.