Indiana needs to look at teacher pay

KPC News Service

A 50-member “blue ribbon commission” met for the first time recently in Indianapolis.

Its members will try to figure out why a teacher shortage is developing in Indiana and what to do about it.

We fear the commission may avoid one obvious answer: Indiana is beyond frugal — call us downright chintzy — when it comes to paying teachers.

More about that in a moment.

First, let’s look at why the Blue Ribbon Commission on the Recruitment and Retention of Excellent Educators became necessary.

Reports this summer showed Indiana has seen an 18 percent drop over the past five years in the number of new teaching licenses. As older teachers retire, not enough college graduates are joining the profession to replace them.

Urban school districts, such as Indianapolis, are finding it hard to keep existing teachers on staff.

We’ve been hearing all kinds of theories about what’s wrong.

At the meeting, one expert said new teachers don’t get enough mentoring and support. Others say teachers are discouraged by the pressure of being judged — with pay raises at stake — on the results of unpopular tests such as ISTEP+.

No one seems to want to talk directly about Indiana’s teacher pay levels, but let’s do it, anyway.

We reported earlier this year that the average Indiana teacher salary in 2014 — $50,644 — runs far behind the U.S. average of $56,689. We’re even farther behind our neighboring states of Michigan ($61,866), Illinois ($60,124) and Ohio ($57,270).

What’s worse is that we’re falling farther behind — fast. Back in 2000, we actually ranked ahead of Ohio and much closer to Michigan and Illinois.

When adjusted for inflation, the average Indiana teacher’s salary today is 13 percent lower than in 2000, according to the National Center for Education Statistics.

We’re not alone in losing ground, but few states are slipping as badly as Indiana.

Indiana’s loss in “real” teacher income ranks second-worst in the nation. Only North Carolina teachers lost more at minus-17 percent over the past 15 years. The national average decline was 2.3 percent.

It wasn’t always this way. Indiana teacher pay made huge leaps in the 1970s, 1980s and 1990s, which may have led Hoosier politicians to overcorrect in this century.

Average pay for Indiana teachers increased only 1.3 percent from 2010 to 2014. That’s not 1.3 percent per year — it’s the five-year total.

Good math teachers — who are in short supply — might see the potential flaws in these statistics. Average teacher pay is influenced by seniority. During the high-gain decades, baby boomer teachers were advancing on the pay scale. Now they’re retiring, with younger and lower-paid teachers replacing them.

But that’s happening everywhere, so it’s not an excuse for Indiana.

The statistics we cite come from the National Education Association, a teachers union. It has a motive to portray teachers as underpaid. But it has no reason to make Indiana look worse than other states.

We suggest hiring some good Hoosier math experts to conduct an unbiased study of Indiana teacher pay as it compares to the nation and Midwest.

Let’s find out if potential new teachers are looking at Indiana’s pay scale and taking their talents elsewhere.

This was distributed by Hoosier State Press Association. Send comments to awoods@tribtown.com.