They're the ones who mold our kids for eight hours a day. But Indiana's teachers are last in the country for salary growth since 2002.
WSBT 22's Tolly Taylor is our new Operation Education investigative reporter.
The Rockefeller Institute recently published data that shows Hoosiers have seen the smallest salary change of any teachers in the country over a 15-year period.
WSBT 22 talked to state legislators and teacher union presidents to try to find out how and why Indiana ranks dead last.
In a wave that slowly spread across the state, 35,000 West Virginia school teachers went on strike in 2018, closing almost all of the 680 schools. West Virginia ranks 47th in the country in a Rockefeller Institute study which tracks salaries from 2002 to 2017. Indiana is 51st.
While West Virginia teachers have seen an average salary increase of just over $8,000 in that time span, Hoosiers have seen an increase of $6,900.
Indiana State Senator Andy Zay was on the education committee for two years. He says state lawmakers passed more than $760 million in April for education funding. Zay says it's up to school districts to raise teacher salaries with that money.
“It’s important to note that we don’t set the schedules as pay schedules,” said Zay. “Those are set by the school boards at the local level. So we commit to funding to our local school boards, and how they distribute it is up to them.”
Representative Dale DeVon goes a step further. He says he proposed a bill that passed in the House encouraging school corporations to put 85-percent of the funding they receive into classrooms, not administration. DeVon says this would have the effect of raising teacher salaries.
The state average is around 80-percent, so he says raising it to 85 state wide would make a big difference. But he says even if school districts don't follow suit, it's important to consider cost of living in evaluating teacher pay.
“But if you take into the cost of living, we’re in the top 10. Because of the cost of living in Indiana, so keeping our communities and our state affordable to live and very enticing for growth, it all makes us all better,” said DeVon.
Both Indiana Teacher Union presidents WSBT 22 spoke to disagreed. Indiana American Federation of Teachers' president GlenEva Duhnam says you have to go all the way back to governor Mitch Daniels to understand how teacher pay got to this point.
In 2009, Daniels cut the state education budget by $300 million and Dunham says additional funds being diverted to start charter schools and a voucher program only made things worse. Since that budget cut 10 years ago, she says school districts have been playing catch up, and they use the money they receive from the state on things parents care about more things like building repairs, newer equipment, things like that.
“So why can’t Indiana give some money and say it’s for teachers, not give it to the superintendent and say ‘Hey, you can give it to the teachers if you want to.’ But we know there’s other pressing things, and that’s what’s happening with that money. And superintendents testified to that fact to the budget committee at the last session. I was there,” said Duhham.
Dunham says that before 2012, public school teachers used to have pay scales, so their pay would increase every few years and your years of service would be factored in.
That pay scale was in addition to the collective bargaining teachers unions used to do with state legislators over things like healthcare, benefits, class size, bus duty, etc.
But Daniels got rid of that system in 2012. Now there's no pay scale for teachers and they can only bargain over insurance and salary.
Teachers now need to get pay increases through Teacher Appreciation Grants which grade teachers and districts based on how students perform.
Indiana State Teachers Association president Keith Gambill calls it "disappointing" to hear that some legislators fail to recognize how far Indiana has fallen behind. He says you just have to look at how many teacher vacancies public schools have state wide.
“Maybe five years ago, when it was just some subjects and some grade levels were having trouble finding enough candidates. Now, in some districts, even finding elementary teachers is becoming problematic,” said Gambill.
A state-wide poll from last year shows that 72-percent of Hoosiers think teachers are paid too little.
How do the states around us compare in terms of pay? That's the part that Gambill kept emphasizing. He says it's tough to argue that Indiana is doing well when you look at the states around us.
Michigan has seen salary increases of more than 14,000, and to our west in Illinois salaries have increased by almost 20,000 during those 15 years. In fact, every state that borders Indiana has seen salaries go up by at least 14,000.
So it's not like the states around us are small steps ahead. Their salaries have increased by more than double compared to what we've seen here.
Gambill says ISTA's research shows that Indiana teachers living on the border with Michigan, Illinois, Ohio and Kentucky are leaving to work in those states and that's directly related to salary.
If you have a story you'd like Tolly Taylor to look into, call our Operation Education tips line at 574-344-2580 or email email@example.com.