Without offering a plan, Holcomb repeats his promise to raise teacher pay

Eric Holcomb at a podium.
Indiana Gov. Eric Holcomb called for a modest increase in education funding in the next budget.  (AP Photo/Darron Cummings)

In his State of the State address Tuesday, Indiana Gov. Eric Holcomb called increasing teacher pay a matter of “when,” not “if,” but stopped short of offering a concrete plan for how to make that happen.

In a pre-recorded address, Holcomb set an ambitious goal for teacher salaries in Indiana, which currently pays educators less on average than do neighboring Midwestern states. 

“When we do this, we will be one of the best in the Midwest for teacher pay,” Holcomb said, “and we’ll be better able to attract and retain teacher talent, including attracting more minority candidates.”

Holcomb did not specify when and how that would be accomplished. Instead, Holcomb, a Republican entering his second term as governor after winning re-election in November, reiterated his call for a modest increase in education funding in the next budget. 

Because of Indiana’s strong finances before the pandemic, the state can afford to add $377 million to education spending over the next two years, Holcomb said. That includes a 2% boost for education in the first year and an additional 1% increase in the second year.

That increase falls far short of the $600 million a year state and local sources will need to spend to make teacher pay competitive with neighboring states, according to a report released last month by a commission Holcomb created. 

Holcomb announced the pay commission two years ago as teacher activism was rising around the country. At the time, the goal was to search for ways to improve salaries and propose action in 2021. But with the state’s economy battered by the coronavirus, Holcomb has not called for a significant increase in school funding.

“The Teacher Compensation Commission Report identified 37 different state and local ideas to reduce costs and increase revenues for our public schools,” Holcomb said, “and we should examine them closely to put more funds into teachers’ pockets.”

Still, even a small boost in funding is more than many school leaders anticipated a few months ago. While other agencies were forced to cut spending during the pandemic, the budget for K-12 schools remained the same, Holcomb noted. And schools can now look forward to an influx of federal money for coronavirus relief.

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