INDIANAPOLIS – This week Governor Eric Holcomb returned to the Indiana legislature for his State of the State address, two years since his last joint-session address was delivered in-person.

The governor laid out his priorities for the year, and addressed the state’s fiscal recovery from the pandemic. Discussing Indiana’s budget surplus, Gov. Holcomb said the state is on track for more economic growth.

“The state of our economy is Indiana strong,” Gov. Holcomb said. “Today, more than 73,000 more Hoosiers are working compared to just before the pandemic hit.”

The governor also touted a raise in pay for teachers after signing a $1.9 billion investment in Indiana education. He believes the money will improve early childhood education, as well as incentivize more educators to join the Indiana workforce.

“The state’s goal for new teacher salaries is $40,000 by July 1, and some 80 percent of schools will have achieved that goal.” Gov. Holcomb said. “Their partners at our Department of Education laser-focused on providing more pathways and opportunities for lifelong student success.”

Holcomb closed his State of the State address by turning to Indiana’s ongoing fight against COVID-19. The state is seeing a surge in cases, with more than half of them linked to the more transmissible Omicron variant. Case counts today have surpassed Indiana’s previous record for infections. After a standing ovation to Hoosier healthcare heroes, Gov. Holcomb pleaded for residents to get vaccinated.

“I want to thank over 3.5 million Hoosiers who are vaccinated and those getting boosted,” Gov. Holcomb said. “If you haven’t been vaccinated, I encourage – I plead – I even beg you to speak to your doctor and do so. I say this even if you’ve disagreed with every position I’ve taken. I just want us both to be around to continue to have those disagreements.”

Although Indiana Democrats agree on the state’s economic outlook, many are saying there is still a lot of work to be done.

“We have a lot of good things from an economic standpoint,” Senate Minority Leader Greg Taylor said. “But if you ask the average Hoosier, they’re still trying to find a way to take care of their families during these very trying times.”

Meanwhile at the Statehouse, lawmakers continue to debate school curricula and what should – and shouldn’t – be taught in Indiana. The issue revolved around a bill that would have banned the teaching of certain topics in schools. This includes teaching “that any sex, race, ethnicity, religion, color, national origin, or political affiliation is inherently superior or inferior to another sex, race, ethnicity, religion, color, national origin, or political affiliation.”

The debate got national attention after Republican Sen. Scott Baldwin said impartiality is necessary when teaching about ideologies like Nazism and fascism. He has since walked back those comments.

Lawmakers effectively killed the Senate version of the bill sponsored by Sen. Baldwin, but a similar piece of legislation is currently making its way through the House, headed by State Representative Tony Cook (R-Cicero).

“Teach the facts, the facts will speak to students,” Rep. Cook said. “I was a U.S. history teacher [and] I taught them with facts. Facts are different than theory.”

The push by Republicans is facing opposition from both Democrats and Hoosier legislators. They disagree on the restrictions on teaching, as well as the consequences teachers may face.

Lawmakers held an hours long hearing on the issue, hearing from many educators like John O’Neal of the Indiana State Teachers Association.

““There’s never a point where teachers can get through the day feeling like they can exhale and got through a day without a violation,” O’Neal said.

That sentiment was echoed by State Rep. Vernon Smith, who is also an educator.

““When we start talking about racism, that’s part of our country’s fabric,” Rep. Smith said.

Watch more from the ongoing debates and speeches at the Statehouse in the video above.