Cook: New tools for schools

Posted by: Allison Vanatsky  | Wednesday, March 20, 2019

Indiana is home to thousands of talented educators who are passionate about seeing our children succeed. As a former superintendent and member of the House Committee on Education, I want to find innovative solutions to some of the challenges our schools face so that teachers feel appreciated and students thrive. This session, I am sponsoring a legislative proposal providing schools more flexibility when it comes to compensating teachers, and another helping schools meet the needs of their students facing speech sound delays and disorders.

Indiana spends half of the state’s budget on K-12 education. However, due to necessary expenses, less than 60 percent of that funding actually makes it to the classroom, taking money away from teacher pay. According to the National Education Association, Indiana’s average public school teacher salary was $54,308 in 2017, which is the ninth-highest teacher pay in the country when adjusted for cost of living. While salaries and benefits are established at the local level through collective bargaining, legislation would provide schools more flexibility to pay teachers as they see fit.

Currently, schools are restricted from raising starting-teacher salaries beyond a certain limit. To help schools better compensate educators, Senate Bill 606 would remove this cap on maximum increases to teachers’ salaries. School corporations could offer new teacher salaries that reflect experience and improve compensation for innovative educators.

In addition to ensuring our teachers are appropriately compensated for their work, it is also important for all students to have access to the proper resources to learn. In Indiana, there is currently a lack of speech-language pathologists. These professionals provide services for Hoosier students struggling with communication issues, like stuttering and swallowing.

Senate Bill 189 would allow an individual pursuing a master’s degree in a related area of study to act as a temporary speech-language pathologist. Under the proposal, the Indiana Department of Education could issue a permit to an individual who already has the foundation training necessary for the job to serve the needs of students eligible for speech and language services.

These permits have been issued since 2007 but due to an oversight, expired in 2018. Schools utilizing this permit option are often in dire situations where speech-language pathologists are not available. Someone working under this permit would also be able to collaborate with a speech-language pathologist who is already licensed, at no additional cost to the school corporation. To address this issue in the long-term, the Indiana Professional Licensing Agency and DOE would also examine the requirements for licensure as a speech-language pathologist or audiologist in Indiana and recommend ways to streamline the process.

It is my hope these proposals can help our schools continue providing the vital services students need and pay teachers accordingly. You can find more information on these bills and more at iga.in.gov. For any questions or input you have about these proposals, please contact me at H32@iga.in.gov or 317-232-9863.

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State Rep. Tony Cook (R-Cicero) represents House District 32, which includes all of Tipton County and portions of Hamilton, Madison, Delaware, Howard and Grant counties.

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