Lawmakers find $763M for education in Indiana budget

(WTHR photo)
Addressing Indiana's Teacher Shortage
Teacher shortage
Budget approved

INDIANAPOLIS (WTHR) - Lawmakers announced a budget surprise at the Statehouse Tuesday - a historic increase in education funding.

House Speaker Brian Bosma (R-Indianapolis) said budgeteers were able to find $763 million in new money for K-12 education this year. The announcement came on the same day lawmakers announced a teacher shortage.

Indiana ranked 15th in the nation for average teacher salary in 2002, then dropped to 36th in 2017.

"Not only are we behind in salaries, we are behind in inflation, just period," said Amber Seibert, a teacher at Westlane Middle School in Washington Township.

Seibert spent Tuesday lobbying lawmakers at the Indiana Statehouse.

Tuesday, the Indiana Department of Education submitted a teacher shortage list to the U.S. Department of Education showing a teacher shortage in nearly 15 subjects.

"We have made this big push that we need more STEM subjects. More students taking science, technology, computer education. It will drive the future of our state. Then we turn around and find we have teacher shortages in those areas," Adam Baker from the Indiana Department of Education said.

A recent study shows Alaska has invested the most in teacher salaries over the last 15 years, with $27,688. Indiana is dead last in the study with $6,904.

"House Bill 1253 wants to arm teachers and shoot us with pellets. Why would anyone want to become a teacher if you just want to teach," Seibert said.

Now it's filtering down to the elementary teaching positions.

"Just a few years ago we would have a hundred or more applicants for those positions and then it dwindled down to 20 or 30. And now we are in single digits," Teresa Meredith from the Indiana State Teachers Association said.

"Part of what is happening is teachers are saying, 'Wait a minute. I don't know what I will make anymore. I don't know if the legislature will fund us so I can actually get a salary increase'," said Sabra Gage, another Westlane Middle School teacher who was at the Statehouse Tuesday.

"I do think there is kind of an emotional blackmail that goes on with teaching. They use our love for our students, other people's children, our own children to get us to do whatever it takes with less and less," Seibert said.

And that's taking its toll on the profession.

The increase will also bump school safety dollars from $9 million to $19 million. Democrats say this budget offering from Republicans neglects teachers, homeowners and adoptive parents.