Lawmakers propose more funding, support to address Indiana teacher shortage

Mandi Beutel

Indiana lawmakers have their first list of recommendations aimed at easing the state’s  shortage of teachers.  More money is just part of the solution.

The Interim Study Committee on Education found what some schools have known all along. Money is important, but so is support and a little appreciation.

Chapelwood Elementary doesn’t have a shortage of teachers. Starting salaries in the Wayne Township school are above the state’s average. Once teachers are hired, administrators work hard to keep them.

Mandi Beutel is a first-year teacher.

"There are hurdles but I’ve pushed through them," she said, and quickly admits she’s getting lots of help.

"Knowing I am part of a team, knowing we are doing something for our community makes me feel valuable as a person and also as a teacher," the second grade teacher explained.

Teachers here get support and guidance from more experienced mentors. They are part of the school’s decision-making process. Administrators look for obstacles to learning and help teachers find ways around them.

Principal Heather Pierce said the school and its teachers are like a big family.  

"If they have success and see the value in what they are doing and know they are making a difference, they are going to come back and keep doing it," said Pierce.

There are fewer new teachers at a time when schools are saying too many experienced teachers are leaving the profession. 

The study committee on education is recommending more mentorship programs for new teachers and higher salaries for those in subject areas where there are critical shortages of teachers. Significant amounts of new state funding to increase the teachers' pay during their first decade of teaching is also a priority.

Senator Mark Stoops D- Bloomington explained, "This is calling for new money.  It’s something we probably should have included in earlier recommendations. We are not asking schools to take money out of their current budgets."

Teachers, many who went years without a raise, could certainly use the money. But they also want a little respect.  

Beutel says friends called her crazy when she decided to become a teacher. Beyond the paycheck, she works for the students’ "I get it moments."

"Look Ms. Beutel, I got it," she explained. "When he does that, that is what keeps me here in addition to being a valued employee."

The committee’s recommendations have the support of Democrats and Republicans from the House and the Senate.

They will be a starting point for debate when the legislature gets down to business in the new year. 

The State of Indiana has seen a 33-percent drop in the number of teaching licenses issued since 2009. Republicans have disputed arguments blaming the drop on school overhaul actions such as additional student testing and allowing private school vouchers adopted in recent years. They say the short supply of teachers is also happening in states that haven't adopted similar measures.