Honors for the slowest study in Indiana history surely must go to Gov. Eric Holcomb's teacher pay commission. Beginning with its closed-door meetings, tardy public input sessions and, now, a delay in the release of its final report until after Nov. 3, the panel's work looks more like a stalling tactic than any real effort to address lagging teacher salaries or inform Hoosiers.
After nearly two years of study, there's no excuse for waiting to release information until after Election Day. What's in the report or recommendations the administration doesn't want voters to see?
Holcomb announced the seven-member study commission in his 2019 State of the State address, pledging to “make teacher pay competitive with surrounding states.” Data at the time showed Indiana teachers, on average, earned $50,554, but starting pay was as low as $30,000. Neighboring states paid much more: An average $61,600 in Illinois and $57,000 in Ohio, according to the National Center for Education Statistics.
A report from the Rockefeller Institute found Indiana educators, on average, made only $6,900 more a year in 2017 than they earned in 2002, for the smallest pay increase in all 50 states and the District of Columbia. Adjusted for inflation, Indiana teacher salaries decreased by 15% over the 15-year period, according to the Indiana Department of Education.
In addition to prompting Holcomb to appoint the study commission, the figures compelled the General Assembly to increase education spending in the last biennial budget, although the increased funding also included $37.5 million in new benefits for charter and voucher schools.
The Next Level Teacher Compensation Commission got off to a rocky start. It initially included no teachers. Its first five meetings were behind closed doors. The panel belatedly scheduled three public input sessions, but only after most teachers had returned to class a year ago.
The teacher pay report was expected this past summer, allowing time for debate before the biennial budget is drafted. But commission Chairman Michael Smith, a retired insurance executive, told The Journal Gazette's Niki Kelly the release of the 60-page draft report and more than 40 recommendations will likely be held until after the election. He cited the state's tenuous financial situation as reason for the delay. He said it isn't related to the election.
If that's the case, there's no reason to hold the report and recommendations any longer. Yes, the pandemic has created economic turmoil. No one knows that better than the Indiana families coping with job losses and reduced income. Hoosier voters understand the pandemic's effects extend to state revenue and elected officials face tough decisions on spending in their next session.
Smith said the commission's recommendations include increased funding, reduced spending and potential policy changes. Hoosiers should know what those recommendations are before casting ballots.
“I am disappointed that the state is delaying the release of the long-awaited teacher compensation report,” wrote Sandra Vohs, president of the Fort Wayne Education Association, in an email. “Formation of the Next Level Teacher Compensation Commission had already significantly pushed back any meaningful attempt to address how stagnant and declining teacher pay in Indiana has caused us to fall behind all of our neighboring states, and, with everything teachers in Indiana are facing now, this is not the time to tell our teachers that this issue is being pushed back again. It sends the message that the report is more about playing politics than actually focusing on what should be a non-partisan issue.”
The delay allows the candidates for governor and legislature to avoid owning up to their intentions on teacher pay and education funding. The commission's study served as a ready excuse for not addressing salaries when the state built a $2.27 billion surplus. Now it's an excuse for state officials eager to avoid 15,000 teachers once again protesting at the Statehouse.
With elimination of the elected state superintendent's post, voters lose a direct voice in addressing education issues. They have waited long enough for a report on an important element in student success. They deserve to know what's on the table and how their elected representatives will respond.