A new survey says a shortage of public school teachers continues to hamper Indiana.

Indiana State University checked with superintendents of more than one-third of Indiana’s public school districts.

Nearly all of them — 92% — reported a shortage of teachers in 2019.

More than half of school districts hired teachers outside their license areas.

More than one-fourth used substitute teachers in full-time roles.

Terry McDaniel, an ISU professor, said many new teachers are quitting within five years, and many veteran teachers are leaving, too, according to the Kokomo Tribune. McDaniel said most common reason for leaving is the inability to support a family on an Indiana teacher’s salary.

The statistics are a little stale, but in the 2016-17 school year, Hoosier teachers made an average salary of $50,554, compared to $61,602 in Illinois and $57,000 in Ohio, according to one national survey.

Which brings us to the present. Indiana teachers want to catch up with other states.

Gov. Eric Holcomb says he shares that goal. But he wants to wait for a report from his Blue Ribbon Commission on Teacher Compensation, which is due later this year, before taking action.

The majority of state legislators are refusing to do anything about teacher pay in the 2020 legislative session that began last week.

Legislators already gave schools a funding increase for this year, and they’re saying it’s enough for now. At 2.5%, it basically keeps Indiana from falling further behind.

That’s why we like a bill from state Rep. Ben Smaltz, R-Auburn, that offers a clever work-around to the standoff.

Smaltz wants to give teachers a $1,000 tax credit immediately. That puts real money in their pockets without revising the state’s budget.

Smaltz’s bill allows both sides to feel good. Teachers would get what is effectively a raise of nearly 2%. Legislators could say they did not increase spending.

The real boost to teachers would be $900 per year, because Smaltz previously won approval of a $100 tax credit in 2015. His attempts to increase it have failed until now.

Officially, Smaltz’s tax credit reimburses teachers for spending their own money on classroom supplies.

However, his bill would not require teachers to submit proof of spending the money. Teachers could claim the credit without any extra paperwork for themselves or the state.

The tax credit would be just like a permanent pay raise for Indiana’s teachers. It would not show up in statistics comparing teacher pay from state-to-state, so we’d have to remember that we did it.

Statewide testing still flawed

Do we need more evidence about the importance of keeping good teachers?

If so, take a look at the federal accountability ratings for Indiana schools, released Jan. 3.

Only 5% of Indiana’s public schools “exceeded expectations,” and 50% “met expectations.”

If only 55% of schools are meeting standards, something is wrong. The instruction was poor, or the test was flawed, or the students were underperforming.

Indiana is blaming the test, which is the main basis for the ratings.

Legislators are rushing to pass a bill that will “hold harmless” both schools and teachers for the results of the new ILEARN test last spring. It won’t be used for school ratings or teacher evaluations.

Which means that, so far, we’ve gained little by replacing the trouble-ridden ISTEP+ test, despite spending millions on a new test.

Lawmakers at both the state and federal levels seem determined that we need a big, once-a-year test to hold teachers and schools “accountable” for performance.

So far, legislators haven’t come up with a reliable test to do the job. They should be holding themselves accountable for that.

OUR VIEW is written on a rotating basis by Dave Kurtz, Grace Housholder, Michael Marturello and Steve Garbacz. Publisher Terry Housholder is also a member of the editorial board. We welcome readers’ comments.

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