Teacher pay bill would limit school spending on operations

By Erica Irish

INDIANAPOLIS —Debate around the House of Representatives’ plan to raise teacher salaries continued Thursday, spurred on by multiple amendments from Democrats.

Rep. Tonya Pfaff, D-Terre Haute, who has taught high school math for 25 years, suggested House Bill 1003 offered a solid framework to school districts as lawmakers determine how to spend more dollars on teachers.

Rep. Tonya Pfaff, D-Terre Haute, explaining her amendment that would track all school spending across Indiana no matter the institution. Photo by Andrew Longstreth, TheStatehouseFile.com

The bill requires schools to report an anticipated budget each year detailing how much the school plans to transfer from its education fund, which covers classroom instruction, to its operation fund. State tuition support powers the education fund, while local property taxes support the operation fund.that

HB 1003 further asks school corporations to make “every reasonable effort” to ensure no more than 15 percent of revenue in the education fund is transferred to the operations fund. By preserving a larger education fund, legislators hope they will encourage school corporations to allocate more funding to teacher pay.

But Pfaff also told lawmakers to reconsider the timeframe for the changes. She noted that the state’s two-part school funding process through education and operation funds is new to schools, noting the standard became effective on Jan. 1. Before Jan. 1, schools had one single general fund to cover district expenses. 

With only five weeks of data from which lawmakers can hold schools accountable, Pfaff offered an amendment to require all schools, including charter and virtual charter schools, to establish and report on their operations and education funds.

“I’m held responsible for every grade I give,” Pfaff said. “This bill is about school accountability. All schools should be held responsible for the tax dollars that we are appropriating out.”

But Rep. Todd Huston, R-Fishers, opposed the amendment. While questioning Pfaff, he said her amendment is not relevant because charter and virtual charter schools don’t receive local property taxes to fund operational budgets. In other words, there would be nothing for the state to track beyond state-provided tuition support.

Rep. Todd Huston, R-Fishers, urging members of the House to vote no on new amendments to House Bill 1003. Photo By Andrew Longstreth, TheStatehouseFile.com

“We will continue to make the proper and necessary adjustments,” Huston said. “We’ve worked hard to make sure we create a target at a reasonable level of reporting.”   

Pfaff’s amendment failed, 31-64. 

Rep. Ed DeLaney, D-Indianapolis, followed with an amendment of his own. One would have introduced an incentive program for school districts.

Should a school district agree to set a minimum teacher salary at $40,000, the state would provide that district with $100 per enrolled student in compensation. Lawmakers voted down the incentive program 31-62.

In a media availability following the House session, House Speaker Brian Bosma, R-Indianapolis, said conversations continue as to how lawmakers can use other methods to provide additional aid to schools.

“I’ve said from the start that our team is looking hard to be sure we can get as much responsibly in the hands of our schools that we can,” Bosma said. “It’s going to be something more than the basic 2 percent.”

Bosma also praised Gov. Eric Holcomb’s plan to use $150 million of the state’s surplus fund to pay off teacher pension liability. Holcomb introduced the plan in his 2019 State of the State address.

“That’s a one-time use of $150 million that leverages at least $70 million expenditure cuts to local schools,” he said. “That’s one of the smartest one-time uses of money I’ve seen in my years working with the budget team.”

HB 1003 again will be open for discussion on Monday. 

Erica Irish is a reporter for TheStatehouseFile.com, a news website powered by Franklin College journalism students.

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