Education took up more than half of the state’s last two-year budget, and so far teacher pay looks to be a big focus in 2019, but that’s not the only education issue policymakers plan – or need – to address next year.
Indiana State Teachers Association (ISTA) President Teresa Meredith said at a meeting earlier this month, pay is vital for finding and keeping more teachers in the state. But there’s more to teacher retention than more money, like better working – or student learning – conditions.
“Whether that be the length of the school day, what we actually do during the school day, class size, things like that,” she says. “It’s not just about paying them more, it’s a bigger picture than that.”
Meredith has said teachers in Indiana are reaching a boiling point on pay, and could take action – like what educators in states across the country have done this year – without action from the state.
But finding, funding, and keeping teachers is part of another bigger picture for how state leaders are hoping to change Indiana’s education landscape.
Policymakers, including the General Assembly, will also focus on accountability.
Schools received two accountability grades earlier this year, after new federal education law kicked in, and some schools received two different grades. But the state department of education (IDOE) has made moves to prevent dueling grades by eliminating federal letter grades altogether and replacing them with four new categories.
ISTA and IDOE also plan to press lawmakers to consider expanding some rules for charter schools in the state. State Superintendent of Public Instruction Jennifer McCormick wants to ensure more ways to evaluate authorizers for how they handle their fiscal and academic responsibilities.
But school safety will be a big ticket item too. Lawmakers approved more funding to help schools buy hardware to limit access and improve active shooter response times after the highly publicized school shooting in Parkland, Florida.
Now, lawmakers will feel the pressure to do more focused on addressing and building up mental health supports around the state, and social and emotional health in schools. Indiana saw two school shootings this year, though no students at the schools died.
Indiana’s youngest learners will also receive some attention. Although Gov. Eric Holcomb has said he doesn’t envision additional funding for the state’s On My Way Pre-K program, lawmakers have said they hope to expand the program to some extent in the next two years, after mounting pressure from advocates in early childhood education.
Other important education issue lawmakers will weigh: whether private schools receiving state money should be allowed to maintain discriminatory policies and practices, and new measures around bus safety.
On top of all that, they have to figure out how much money to set aside for schools over the next two years, with a pretty limited budget. Lawmakers reconvene Jan. 3.