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Republicans pushing target for Indiana schools spending

Posted at 10:06 AM, Jan 08, 2019

INDIANAPOLIS (AP) — Republican legislators want to push Indiana school districts toward spending a higher percentage of their state funding on teachers and other classroom costs.

House GOP leaders announced Monday they will advance a proposal setting a target of districts spending at least 85 percent of state money on such expenses. The move comes as Republican Gov. Eric Holcomb and GOP lawmakers have said boosting teacher pay is a top priority for the new state budget, but haven’t yet specified how they would do so when also faced with growing Medicaid and child protection expenses.

Republican House Speaker Brian Bosma said numerous school districts are short of that 85 percent target, although it isn’t clear how many and by how much. The proposal wouldn’t force spending changes on districts, but would require a state report listing their performance aimed at publicizing those with high levels of non-classroom spending.

Bosma said the target could help boost teacher salaries while the state budget remains tight.

“If we can increase that percentage significantly, this is one way that we could use our current dollars and get more dollars in teachers’ hands,” Bosma said. “No school purposefully overspends on administration.”

Some school leaders have complained about increased costs they’ve been forced to cover, such as additional student testing requirements and advertising to compete for students who could attend charter schools or transfer to neighboring districts.

State fiscal analysts project tax revenues will grow by about 2.5 percent each year for the new two-year budget starting in July, but the state’s troubled Department of Child Services is seeking about two-thirds of that money to keep paying for hundreds of new child welfare caseworkers added over the last few years. An expected jump in state costs for the Medicaid health care program for low-income families could consume the rest.

Republicans want to protect the state’s $1.8 billion budget surplus, which Democrats suggest should be tapped to make money available for teacher pay.

Bosma declined to say how much House Republicans will seek to increase school funding in their budget proposal that will be released in the coming weeks.

Democratic Sen. Eddie Melton of Gary, a former State Board of Education member, said the Legislature needs to step up to boost school funding more.

“I think our local communities, local school corporations have done all that they can to ensure that their teachers receive adequate pay,” Melton said.

Indiana ranked 31st among the 50 states in teacher pay during 2016, with average salaries of $50,715, according to the National Education Association. That’s lower than the five nearby states that the Holcomb administration wants to compare Indiana with — Illinois, Kentucky, Michigan, Ohio and Wisconsin.

The head of Indiana’s largest teachers union said steps are needed to raise salaries and stem the loss of good teachers from the state.

“We want to keep them and we can’t do that just by staying where we are,” said Teresa Meredith, president of the Indiana State Teachers Association. “We’ve got to have some action.”

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