Hundreds of Indiana educators shared their ideas for raising teacher pay. Now they wait.

It will likely be a year before teachers’ ideas for raising their salaries will be shared with state leaders. Despite unions’ insistence that the issue demands action, the suggestions teachers made during public meetings last month could have little impact on the upcoming legislative session.

Commission chairman Mike Smith said the 14 members tasked with making teacher pay recommendations to Gov. Eric Holcomb will work to complete their report by August 2020, in advance of the next legislative session that sets the state budget.

In the meantime, each teacher pay commission member chose an area of policy to research individually, Smith said, and will share preliminary ideas with the governor and school leaders as they go. There is not another public meeting planned, but people can continue to submit ideas online.

“I think that is a long time to go without any public input, and they need to think about that,” said Sally Sloan, executive director of the American Federation of Teachers Indiana union. “If they have a report, when it comes around they should invite people to see it, read it, provide input.”

The state’s largest teacher’s union, Indiana State Teachers Association, is calling on lawmakers to allocate part of the state’s revenue surplus to teacher salaries, saying “if teacher compensation is to be competitive with our surrounding states, we need a significant investment and we need it now.”

Indiana is so far behind neighboring states in teacher compensation that it would cost an estimated $658 million to make salaries more competitive, according to a January report. In 2016-17, Indiana teachers made an average salary of $50,554, according to the National Center for Education Statistics, but starting salaries can be as low as $30,000.

When asked by Chalkbeat, Rep. Bob Behning, an Indianapolis Republican who chairs the House Education Committee, said in an email the state’s reserves aren’t meant to be a source of ongoing revenue.

“We need to look at long-term, sustainable solutions to increase teacher pay,” he said. “I will consider all sustainable options to increase teacher pay.”

Lawmakers could address teacher pay in the session that begins in January, but are unlikely to consider any proposals with significant costs because Indiana is in the second year of a two-year budget and won’t write a new budget until 2021.

“I don’t think we’ll be able to wait until August 2020 to address these issues,” said Rachel Hathaway, the interim executive director of Teach Plus Indiana, a group that supports traditional and charter school teachers. “At the very least, the dialogue will continue to stay in the forefront because every year we are struggling to attract and retain educators.”

Smith said it’s “premature” to list which ideas brought to the public meeting stood out, but agreed there was “loud resonance” from teachers around reinstating salary schedules in which districts set a predetermined pay increase for teachers each year, or with each added degree or certification. However, Smith said mandating salary schedules from the state level might be an overstep.

“It’s a real challenge to balance what state government should be doing versus what locally elected school boards should be providing in [the] way of governance,” he said. “School districts are a very diverse set of organizations. So finding solutions that don’t create inequities is a challenge.”

Local unions said more funding from the state would give districts the ability to individually bring back the schedule.

“Teachers no longer have confidence that their pay will go up if they advance professionally and stay in the profession over the course of their working lives,” said Indiana State Teachers Association Executive Director Dan Holub. “These problems are fixable if we can get past ideological lines and respect educators.

Other ideas that teachers surfaced during last month’s public meetings included potentially lowering rising insurance costs by creating a statewide plan, reallocating fines for passing stopped school buses from city budgets to schools, and giving new teachers grant money to outfit their classrooms.

Earlier this year, Holcomb directed the state to dip into its $2 billion reserves to pay off a teacher pension liability for schools. That move was expected to save schools millions that could then be put toward salaries, but was also criticized for not benefiting all schools equally and not requiring that the savings be put toward teacher salaries.

Behning said that in the upcoming legislative session, he will look at additional ways to “cut overhead costs and drive more dollars to teachers’ pockets.” By law, schools are encouraged to put 85% of the state funding they receive toward the classroom rather than toward administrative costs.

“In some schools, only 60% of funding makes it to the classroom, taking away critical dollars from student instruction and teacher pay,” Behning said. “Knowing how schools are doing with this goal will shed light on other options to increase teacher pay.”